Female commuters board a women-only coach at a Delhi Metro train station in New Delhi.— Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI: On a wintry evening in Delhi, beautician Geeta Misarvan leaves work, steeling herself for a long wait until a bus arrives and with it the dreaded prospect of being groped by strangers during the ride home.

“Once a guy sees you travelling alone, he will come and stand right behind you. Then, he will lean in and press his body against yours and try to touch you,” Misarvan said, describing an ordeal endured daily by many women in urban India.

In Delhi's crowded coaches, where men easily outnumber women, the sense of hostility and fear is particularly palpable in the wake of the widely-discussed gang-rape and murder of a young student on a moving bus in the city last month.

“It's terrifying,” Misarvan told AFP. “Sometimes I just lose it and ask the guy to stand properly but then he just yells at you, telling you to shut up.

“It's upsetting, but what more can I do? If the guy gets even more aggressive or violent, no one on that bus is going to help me... so I just put up with it and wait for my bus stop,” she said.

Once 34-year-old Misarvan steps off the bus, she hunts for an auto-rickshaw, three-wheeled vehicles which are cheaper than taxis, since it's too dark and unsafe to make the 35-minute walk alone to her house.

On most evenings it takes her 90 minutes to arrive home from work.

an Indian woman carries a child as she queues for an overcrowded train at a railway station in New Delhi.
An Indian woman carries a child as she queues for an overcrowded train at a railway station in New Delhi. — Photo by AFP

India's expanding economy has seen unprecedented numbers of women join the workforce, but their emergence has been accompanied by growing threats to their security.

Like many working women, Poonam, a 21-year-old barista at an upmarket coffee shop in the capital, often stays late serving customers and says her parents fret nonstop about her comings and goings, calling her every night.

“I try to get an auto-rickshaw (home) because it's safer but the drivers haggle for double pay and I can't always afford it. So I end up waiting late at night for the bus, which never arrives on time,” she told AFP.

Once on board, Poonam, who declined to give her surname, says that sexual harassment is a constant risk.

“There's nothing you can do about it, if you tell your family, chances are they will just tell you to stay home,” she said.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that economic progress is impossible without the “active participation” of women, but there are signs that the Delhi gang-rape case has led some to turn their backs on the workplace.

A survey by industry group ASSOCHAM published this month showed a 40 per cent fall in the productivity of female employees at call centres and IT firms in the country because many had reduced their hours or had quit their jobs.

Insensitive comments from politicians implying women are to blame for sexual assaults and clumsy “safety tips” from police have only fuelled anger among commuters.

A Delhi Police advisory posted on its official website suggests that women should “turn off” prospective attackers by vomiting or “acting crazy”.

Just days after the December 16 gang-rape, K.P. Raghuvanshi, a senior police officer in Mumbai told female college students to carry a packet of chilli powder with them always and use it when threatened, the Press Trust of India reported.

Alone Indian woman stands in a queue at the railway station in New Delhi.
Alone Indian woman stands in a queue at the railway station in New Delhi. — Photo by AFP

While trains in Mumbai and Delhi run segregated women-only coaches in response to the high incidence of sexual harassment, many have now called for more vigilance by authorities and frequent police checks.

Police and prosecutors have outlined how the student and her male companion struggled to find transport to go home and so agreed to climb aboard the bus driven by the rapists.

The group allegedly beat up the man and repeatedly raped and assaulted the victim with a rusting metal bar in the back of the bus while driving around Delhi for some 45 minutes.

Five adults were due to go on trial on Monday on charges of rape and murder in connection with the attack.

Since the attack, beautician Misarvan, who often boarded similar privately-run buses to visit her widowed mother in west Delhi, says she is too afraid to keep doing so and now spends more to take an auto-rickshaw instead.

Like her other female colleagues, she tries to leave work as early as possible and expresses no faith in the Indian police's ability to protect her.

“Nowhere in this country is safe,” says the mother of two, the first woman in her family to have a job.

“I worry a lot about my daughter growing up here, whether she will have to endure the same problems, the same risks that I deal with every time I leave my house,” she added.

Updated Jan 21, 2013 05:18am

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Comments (22) (Closed)

Jan 22, 2013 05:53am
In Delhi buses have common entrance and exit for women and women are bound to share the space with men. In South India, buses have separate entrance/exit and seat placement for men and women making it very comfortable for women to travel in buses. Writer has interviewed a delhi woman and generalized her views as a problem of India. It's the Delhi government that needs to do better. India is huge and there are large differences in the way things work in different parts of the country.
kult ov azazel
Jan 22, 2013 05:25am
So does that mean the men are animals and no matter what they can not be controlled. I believe Islam should have also mentioned how uncivilized and unruly men are and hence inferior to women. Don't know what world we live in where women continue to be treated like this be it East or West, though the west does ensure protecting its women more by enforcement of laws unlike our world where the so called "honor" of the sycophantic society ensures that the victim gets punished instead of the assaulter. Shame, shame on us
Nazir K Ali
Jan 22, 2013 04:01am
If it does not eliminate it, which is probable, it will at least have a signal effect. Salams
Jan 22, 2013 04:54am
But you forgot to mention that Pakistan is the ONLY country in the whole world where such crimes take place. It happens nowhere else in the world. Am I right?
MAH, Abu Dhabi
Jan 22, 2013 06:33am
This is so appalling but this is not it! In a few years the results of another horrendous and widespread practise in India - female infanticide - will have much fewer women than men. What will happen then! My heartfelt sympathies to the plight of womenfolk there :(
Jan 21, 2013 09:00am
These are only facts reported by the news agnecy AFP as you can check, not the writers own opinion. No need to bash the writer.
Cyrus Howell
Jan 21, 2013 08:40pm
Doubtful that would work.
Jan 21, 2013 06:58am
Too far fetched dont you think? The writer is bent on potraying india as dangerous for women like it never happens anywhere else in the world. Its the problems faced by any growing nation at the confluence of old and new cultures clashing. The writer could do a lot better next time!
Jan 22, 2013 07:04am
Don't take it as an axiom friends. If a country starts to develop then does it mean that they have to face such problems? We need to recognise the fact that there is something wrong with the line of progress and correct it. 'Electronic Media Entertainment' plays a deep role in overall thinking of the youth, it needs to be controlled and not allowed to just air 'lust and sexual excitement' througout its viewers. Another main action is 'immediate public punishments'. As soon as the culprits are proven guilty in such cases, they should be punished publicly (the punishment should be acute and not jailed for xy years). This action not only would relieve (to some extent) the opressed but also will prove to be an open warning to other untamed animals.
Jan 21, 2013 05:33pm
You should learn to absorb and accept the truth as well my dear friend.
Jan 21, 2013 05:32pm
Well said. But as you witness, they are slowly moving towards segregation between men and women on public transport, which has been in muslim countries for years and years.
not required
Jan 21, 2013 04:35pm
Dude please, dont drag ISLAM everywhere. Rape cases sexual harassment happen in ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN also.
Jan 21, 2013 04:33pm
Welcome to the great democracy and a civilized nation. Are u kidding me? lol
Jan 21, 2013 03:59pm
What we as indians say about it is geniune concern, but if the same thing is said by a pakistani paper, it is INDIA BASHING.... Grow up and stop this hyprocrisy
Jalaluddin S. Hussain
Jan 21, 2013 11:38pm
I agree, but still sincerely feel that factors like poverty, lack of education and lack of respect for the womenfolk, is also to be blamed. As a Pakistan-Canadian, I feel that India should also be praised for the rapid economic, social and educational progress. Of course, many of the developing and developed societies, suffer from this "rape" problem. India is not the only country!
Jan 21, 2013 03:46pm
Just horrible. Reflects very badly on the morality of man in general and men in India in particular. Wonder what they are taught at home.
Jan 21, 2013 03:20pm
No. I don't think it is far fetched. There is no culture in the world where women look forward to be treated like this - not old, not new and not a clash of cultures?
Raoul Ciao
Jan 21, 2013 08:42am
horrible news. These secular westernised nations need to learn that "regressive" Islamic nations do not allow this kind of stuff to happen there to women.
Jan 21, 2013 11:32am
The Indian government should run a vigorous campaign against such attacks and Bollywood needs to eliminate suggested rape scenes from it's movies which will go a long way in stemming this evil act!
The Pak
Jan 21, 2013 11:14pm
@Taj blame it on Pakistan are you blind you can not see the pictures or you Indains are in state of denials shame on this kind of democracy where they cannot protect the poor women shame.
Jan 22, 2013 06:07am
Why can't you face your own problems , instead of dragging Pakistan in every situation and comparing urself with Pakistanis . Pakistan may also have some problems but as for now this topic is related to the crimes in India .
Jan 22, 2013 04:43pm
Dont blame Govt or anyone for your horrendous act. This is the mindset which needs to be changed, there are many countries with similar set of rules for commuting for people of different beliefs, but they are all alright, why it does have to happen in our part of the world, not saying it only in India, it happens in pakistan as well, whenever one gets the opportunity, it results in this. People need to get out of this and grow up, there is a lot more beyond lust and sex.