20 simple actions women can take to travel safely in Delhi (India)

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Rape is a peculiar heinous crime. Whenever there is a rape it reminds us that we indeed were evolved from animals and even though we have progressed so much more there are still the some undesirable animal instinct left in us. All these advancements have not helps us in understanding why a perfectly sane man suddenly falls for his uncontrollable desires and becomes an animal?

No one really has any concrete answers why it happens and how it can be stopped quickly. The overwhelming thought is that quick speedy justice with really stringent punishment is the way forward. However, in the most horrific case of Nirbaya the government acted relatively swiftly and those who found guilty were given death penalty. That incident resulted in woman safety getting the due attention it always needed. 

However, since the horrific incident, we started hearing more cases and on all all kinds of them – young kids, old woman and from all parts of the country. This was totally unexpected and probably left a lot of us clueless. We always pondered with the question of "What woman want?" but now the million dollar questions are "Why men do this?" and "How the hell do we stop this?". Read on to know my view.

Stop abusing woman!
Stop abusing woman!

Well, in the long run what is ultimately going to reduce such crimes is by understanding what causes men to do this and address the root cause. However, there are some obvious steps which we can take. For example, We need to the change in mind set of men and society towards woman by stopping objectifying them & reduce the hype around sex. We also need to bring our badly skewed sex ratio back in to balance and reduce gender bias. These points needs to detailed further and there are probably many more steps but it is not the focus of this article. However, it is clear that these steps will be slow process which will take many years if not decades but we need to start acting now. (Modiji, are you listening?)

In the medium term, we need to find ways to root out corruption which is the main reason we have lax systems with loopholes everywhere. An honest government will at least make good efforts in plugging these loop holes (Luckily Delhi is set to have an election soon and one of the political parties (AAP) has promised some very good measures and I believe should be given a chance). 

In the short term, we should not wait for the new or any existing government to magically transform the city overnight. So we should take up more responsibility and educate ourselves on different aspects of public life (Radio taxi requirements) and then try to get all gaps plugged by putting pressure on the government & influential people in every way possible (like this done by Shenaz). But unfortunately life still has to go on and we cannot wait until it is "safe enough" for woman to travel.

So women are left to protect themselves and hence I have come up with a list of 20 different steps/actions/ideas a woman can consider to take up to enhance her travel safety in Delhi (or any other city in India or that of the world). Most of these are common sense suggestions which most of us know but I guess we might not follow them in rigour with integrity because we never think that we will be the unlucky one. So it is good to go over them and see which of them you can adopt. Some of these might sound as overkill but amount of effort needed is negligible when compared to the horror one have to endure when attacked and after. If you choose any of the below items and follow with rigour & intensity for a month or two it will become your second nature. 

The steps are divided into three sections – before you start section which addresses the preparation that you can make before any journey. The next set of steps are those which you can do when you are onboard a cab or a taxi. Last little section talks of what you can do if someone indeed attacks you. So here we go..

Before you start

  • Cut down traveling alone at night – Well, this is an option which needs to be considered before you actually plan to travel. In an ideal world you should be free to go out whenever you want for whatever reason without thinking twice but we are far from an ideal world.
  • Plan your day – Clearly plan your day and know where you will be at what time and how you plan to travel. This will help in reducing or avoiding traveling alone in taxis and autos.
  • Ask a friend for help, why are they for? – Typically incidents such as rape happen in dark at night. So if you do have to travel alone at night, why not find someone who can give you a ride to the destination? Why do we have friends for? Not just to ‘like’ our posts.
  • Find a reliable company to travel with – It is obvious that two is better than one because there is safety in number. This is even more important when you are alone and tired. Having someone along with you to travel would help. If this is a one off situation, be unreasonable and request for the person to accompany you (obviously this should not put the other person in too much danger).
  • Change your destination if needed – If you are at a place from where it is riskier to travel home as compared to staying over at a nearby aunt, uncle or friend's place then explore that option. Sure, this is far from being comfortable but if this is a rare situation and the friend is reliable and trustworthy enough then why not? Don’t think of what they will think of such requests. Any good person will be more than willing to help out.   
  • Pre-book a reliable taxi service – If you do have to travel alone see if you can pre-book a reliable taxi service. By reliable I mean of a service which typically sends you the details of the cab, the driver and so on before you start your journey. If not, note the taxi number, type of the cab and any details that you can see. If any of the information is not available and you still feel OK to travel then ask for driver's details. There is no harm in that but try not to ask in a suspect manner.
  • Know & track your journey – If you are not well-versed with the route you are taking then it makes sense to know your journey well. By this what are the routes you might take, what are the landmarks and how much time it might take to reach your destination. Without this preparation it will be difficult for you to know if you are being taken in the right direction or not. If your smartphone is GPS enabled then use it to track your journey. Good cabs will have it as a part of their service (I am not very sure but I think Meru cabs in Bangalore has a big screen next to the driver which shows the route being taken).
  • Install & test emergency alarm or messaging apps – You never hope you would have to use them but given the situation you never know. Install apps that make a big sound and test them to make sure you can activate it one handed without even having to look at the screen. Here are two examples – 1. Emergency Rescue 2. Send SOS (both not tested by me). There could be many more out there and hence worth searching for more. 
  • Let someone "track" your journey – Let someone know of your taxi travel plan and expected time to complete the journey (indicate the route you are taking if possible). Make it a practice to call them on reaching your destination. If you don’t call them on time, let them call you. In summary, there should be at least one other person who knows where you are all the time. So that if you are not reachable for any reason within a certain period of time then they will do whatever it takes to reach you. Given the importance, let this other person be someone responsible and not someone who will end up saying "Oops, I forgot". Making this a regular practice will surely help a lot.
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged all the time – The above arrangement means that you can never afford to have your cell phone on low battery. If you are a smartphone user then this is generally a big problem. So you should always need to ensure that charge in your cell never goes down below 75% or so even it means that you have to keep charging it more often and reduce the battery life. It would also be good to have a cheap emergency phone which is with you all the time and requires less frequent mobile currency and electric charging (similar to Nokia 3310 which we had long time ago). This will help you being reachable all the time. Just to make it a habit, pay a fine of some sort (give a treat to a bagger) when you find your phone(s) switched off when you are out of home so that you never repeat the mistake.
  • Have emergency numbers handy – Have numbers of police and emergency services of your city handy (here is an unverified list of numbers of Delhi) in case you need them. However, typically in situations like these you will rarely have time to call and unfortunately all of these are landline numbers so I guess there is no way you can send text messages to them. So what is better is to have a text saved as draft with key contacts already selected. What is required of you is to just press the "send" button.
  • Have a pepper spray & some shape object – You need to have things which will help you escape. Pepper Spray is the best but you need to be alert and ready to use it at the right moment. It is easier to use the pepper spray than a sharp object as you can do it from a distance and it helps you to escape easily. However, have a sharp object as well to ensure you have left nothing to chance.
  • Get trained in self-defence – Well, having a sharp object is great but knowing how to use it another. So it makes good sense to join some classes to learn different self-defence techniques (one example is here). This is a one time investment which makes you much more confidence about protecting yourself. 

The Journey

  • Try and avoid taking unauthorized cabs – Don’t take cabs which are not authorized. Make sure that you can find the taxi, driver and other details clearly before you make the journey. Decline to take the cab if you don't feel comfortable.
  • Note the driver details – All taxi and auto drivers are not bad but you cannot take any chances. So Check for driver's license and identity details and see if the photo on the license matches the person. Pass the information to one other person (preferably to the one who will track your journey).
  • Take the safer well lit route, always – Regardless of the purpose of your journey, make sure that you always take the safer route even if it is longer & costlier. Even if you are traveling for a medical emergency, it is safer to avoid unsafe shortcuts which might save time but put your safety at risk.
  • Be alert and watchful – It is hard to stay sane when you feel very unsafe. However, you can hardly go out if you let such fears unnerve you. It is critical however to be on your toes by being always on alert and watch every move of the driver. Get a coffee before you board the cab if needed. Do whatever it takes to be alert.
  • Use his phone as a help – One of the reason why men attack strangers is because they think they can escape easily. So if you feel insecure and getting down from the cab is not a better option (too dark or unsafe place) then you can request for cabby's phone to call someone about something urgent saying yours' is switched off or has low battery. Make a call to someone tell something "urgent" and ask them to call back at that number if needed (oh! I forgot to ….. if you need….. call me back at this cabby's number. I currently traveling here and should be at the destination in next … mins). You doing this might make cabby to think a bit more before he consider attacking you as your friend now has a rough idea of your location and also his number.
  • Strike a conversation and try to relate to the person – Not all cab or auto drivers are bad as some are really honest and work hard to earn their living. You suspecting them from the word go will not help you to travel peacefully. If the cabby is not creepy from the word go like watching you constantly in the mirror (in which case you should get off the cab at a safe place), it is not a bad idea to strike a conversation with the cab driver and in the process make them feel appreciated for the work they do. The idea here is not to make friends but for you to enter the good books of the driver and become more than just a beautiful stranger to him. If you are successful then there is less likely to attack you as you have been considerate and appreciative of them. However, even if he still attacks, the details that you get to know about him from the conversation might help in some way later on.

If he still plans to attack? 

  • If all fails and he attacks – If he still attacks then you are left with some of the the above options. Depending on the time you have, you can send emergency SOS message to someone through one of the apps. If he is not too near to you then you can try the pepper spray. If he is too close to you then you need focus on hurting him real bad very quickly and escape real fast. To hurt him really badly you have to aim for his eyes, ears, nose and groin which are most vulnerable parts of him (check out the video playlist below – all of which are very helpful). All along this, make sure you scream at your loudest possible as you never know who might come to your support. Run when you find your chance and never look back. There are a lot more videos online and I recommend you to watch them but nothing can beat an actual self-defence classes.     

I was already outraged by what happened in Delhi but a shoddy "be safe" list put together by IBN made me question why write such a piece anyway? Even Rajdeep's show focused on solutions did not spell out enough things that woman can follow today to protect themselves. So I had to write this up with an aim to cover every possible angle. Having said that I am sure there could be many more things which we can do and if you come across any then please suggest and I will add to the list. Above all please share this to as many as possible.

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