Safe? Think again

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 14, 2010 20:01 hrs

Why the recent Delhi Police order directing companies to ensure the security of women employees doesn’t make women feel safer.

If you are a working woman and thought the recent Delhi Police order, issued to BPOs, corporations and media houses, would ensure your safety on the streets of Delhi, you may need to think again.

The eight-point notice offers no new solution to tackle the problem of law and order in the capital and comes as a proforma reaction to the recent Dhaula Kuan rape case, where a 30-year-old BPO employee was abducted and gang-raped by five men after she was dropped home.

The guidelines for implementing these eight points do not specify the timings of the cab service to be provided, neither do they make it obligatory. What’s more the orders, issued under the Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, will remain in force only for the next 53 days, leaving the bigger question of security for women in the capital unanswered.

With a record of 433 rapes (more than one a day) reported in New Delhi in 2010 so far, the notice clearly seems like nothing more than a stop-gap arrangement. Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre of Social Research, an NGO working on gender sensitisation issues, reacts, "We are really upset with this lacklustre approach. What we need now is a comprehensive piece of legislation protecting women and providing them a holistic and safe work environment, not just in Delhi but all over India." She adds that the order does not make it clear how the defaulters would be punished, and it is still optional for companies to provide a cab service. Why would a company put in extra cost and effort towards ensuring the safety of women if we do not make it obligatory and absolutely imperative, she asks.

For many women it’s not just a question of travelling in a cab at night, but a general sense of insecurity any time of the day. Pavit Nanda, a 24-year-old woman from Kolkata working in a PR firm, says though she finishes work by 7 p m she does not feel safe travelling in public transport. "My house is 40 minutes away from my workplace and even though technically it’s not ‘too’ late to travel alone I don’t feel safe on the streets of Delhi," she says. Arouba Pathan, working in a media house, agrees and feels that even with the presence of a security guard in the cab, she does not feel safe. "What could one guard do, if a bunch of five men attacks?" she asks.

Those who do not follow the order issued by Delhi Police are liable to be punished with a fine or even jail for six months, but it’s not very clear whether the guidelines are being followed by companies or even being monitored. Some of the guidelines, like ensuring women are not made to travel alone and accompanying a woman employee to her house if it is not located on a motorable road, have already been in practice, claim most BPOs.

Som Mittal, president of Nasscom, trade body representing the IT-BPO industries, says it is working with the Delhi Police and looking into the guidelines and the feasibility of implementing them. "While we welcome the eight-point order issued by Delhi Police, we have some qualms over the guidelines, like confirming arrival at the residence through a telephone call. We wouldn’t want women employees sharing their numbers with cab drivers," he says.

Mittal added that they would like to look at the issue of security for women in a broader perspective. When asked about installing a GPS system in cabs ferrying women (one of the rules), he replied, it was not possible to do so overnight.

There are those who believe that the order is, at best, a small preventive measure. Madhu Chandra, spokesperson of the north-east support centre and helpline, says, "Guidelines existed earlier too, but they weren’t being followed or monitored by BPOs. We need to address some key issues and have a strict law and order apparatus in place." Night patrolling in unsafe areas and CCTV camera installation in some of the crime-prone areas are steps that must be undertaken to avoid such cases of rape and abduction. He points out some key problem areas like the inability of officers in the police control rooms to understand English. "Delhi has people coming from the north-east and south, who are not fluent in Hindi. It’s important to have officials who understand English on all emergency numbers to avoid communication problems in time of emergency," he says.

Genpact, Dell, HCL and EXL, contacted for this article, conveyed their willingness to ensure the safety of women employees, but remained uncommunicative on the order issued by the Delhi Police and its implementation in their organisation. With no substantial reduction in cases of crime, women in the capital city need much more than assurance.