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That unsafe feeling

How safe do adolescent girls feel in Assam while making their way to school, private tuition, market or any public space? A recently released survey report by the NGO Save the Children comes as an eye-opener. This study covered 12 districts in 6 States, including Darrang and Hailakandi in Assam. Its findings? An overwhelming 73 percent adolescent girls find lewd comments in public spaces their ‘biggest safety concern’, 65 percent girls do not feel safe travelling on public transport, while 51 percent find road to their schools, local markets and private tuitions ‘unsafe’. According to the report, one of every four adolescent girls perceived the threat of being physically assaulted, including getting raped, while venturing into public spaces; one in three feared being inappropriately touched or stalked. But most girls would rather keep quiet about this constant fear that haunts them. Why? In the survey, 48 percent adolescent girls said their movement outside home “will be restricted or severely curtailed” if their parents come to know they are being harassed in public spaces. Parents too were covered in the survey. Many of them revealed how worried they get about the safety of their daughters — some one-fifth or 20 percent parents even prefer to get their girls married off early so as to be rid of the anxiety. To get the other side of the picture, the survey also covered boys, with a sizeable number revealing why boys will be boys! “One in three adolescent boys, who were interviewed during the study, felt that girls should avoid ‘wearing certain types’ of clothes while going out in public spaces,” stated the report. Among the reasons cited as to why girls feel unsafe in public spaces, the major ones are — inadequate lights, lack of bystander support, inadequate support from police, limited family support. “Altogether 60 percent of adolescent girls expressed feeling unsafe in public spaces with inadequate lights. So, all public spaces should have proper functional lights. …Safe public transport for women has to be ensured by installing CCTV cameras, GPS and SOS buttons to alert police control room, and sensitization of drivers and conductors. Wherever possible girls/ women-only transport services should be started by the state government especially on routes serving educational institutions like schools and colleges,” were some of the recommendations of the study.

Titled WINGS 2018: World of India’s Girls: A study on the perception of girls’ safety in public spaces in 2017, this study by Save the Children aimed ‘to explore and understand’ how perceptions of safety or the lack of it — act as a barrier to young girls accessing their basic rights and living productive lives. Though it covered only 12 districts — the others being Malda and Bankura in Bengal, Sonipat and Alawar in the National Capital Region, Shadol and Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, Yavatmal and Bid in Maharashtra, Khammam and Nalgonda in Telangana — it does paint a bleak picture. What needs be appreciated is that Delhi and other parts of NCR, and some of the States in north India have a milieu inimical to girls, from female foeticide to crimes against women. That Assam is rubbing shoulders with such States should be a matter of concern for Dispur. In February last, the Assam government revealed in the Assembly that in the past two years, as many as 29,223 incidents of violence against women, including physical assault, rapes and kidnapping, were reported from various parts of the State. It is a sobering thought that in terms of the crime rate (number of violent crimes committed per 1 lakh population), Assam was ranked second in crime against women only behind New Delhi by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) last year. Altogether 20,869 cases of crime against women were registered in the State in 2016, including 5,339 kidnapping/abduction, 1,779 rapes, 370 attempts to commit rape, and 3,378 assaults with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty, apart from 157 dowry deaths. Such figures show a consistent pattern in recent years that the crime rate against women in Assam remains unusually high. The insecurity and fear this breeds in the minds of half the State’s population greatly impacts their productivity and quality of life.

‘Happyness’ in Bihar
The Bihar government remains gung-ho over Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s crusade against liquor, with two recent studies suggesting that the ban has turned the State into ‘a land of milk and honey’. There has been a 17.5 percent increase in the consumption of milk products in 2016-17 compared to previous year, claims the Development Management Institute (DMI), Patna in a study. The figures are far more spectacular for cheese, with sales soaring by 200 percent, and honey sales rocketing to 380 percent increase. So does this mean erstwhile tipplers are shelling out good money to gorge on lassi, cheese and honey? The DMI study claims the diversion of money from liquor has also jacked up saree sales by 1,715 percent, vehicular sales by 30 percent and entertainment tax collection by 29 percent. Meanwhile, a study by Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute has claimed that the liquor ban has helped pull down crime rates, with kidnapping for ransom down by 66.6 percent, murder by 28.3 percent and dacoity by 22.8 percent. Having published both studies in the latest economic survey of the State, the Bihar government is reportedly mulling a crackdown next on gutkha and khaini sales, mindful of how such tobacco products have become major causes of mouth cancer. So despite naysayers warning of bootlegging, smuggling and corruption as the ‘gifts’ of liquor ban, Nitish Kumar appears undeterred from pursuing ‘happyness’ for his people.

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