Assam
Representative image

He stood sentinel to protect his sister from the clutches of eve teasers and hooligans and started accompanying her daily to her computer classes.

Donning a confident look and introducing himself to the crowd, 15-year-old Devdas Karmakar said, “I was deeply moved to see the plight of my sister. She is my sister. Her safety is my concern. She feels unsafe to go to her classes. So I decided to accompany her daily. I got angry and tensed when my sister first narrated how she was stalked and eve teased by some boys on her way to classes. I think many girls feel unsafe as my sister does. Can’t we create a healthy atmosphere where all women can roam freely and fearlessly without the need of any protector?”

Devdas is a student of 10 standards and a resident of Tinkharia Tea Estate in Dhekiajuli. He is the child champion of Save the Children—an international organization working for children’s rights.

There will be countless such narratives which will make one wonder about the safety of girls both at home and in public spaces.

“Where is the safety of a 15-year-old girl who was made pregnant by her 70-year-old grandfather? She used to live with her grandparents after her father’s death as her mother had left her at her in-laws place. In what a society are we living in where a 10-year-old is being raped repeatedly by her father? Her mother had left her and fled with someone else. Her father is still absconding. He was even provided safe haven by villagers. These are some of the cases that I had come across. Girl child abuse not only happens in public places. In many cases charge sheets are not filed by police.  The medical and forensic reports are tampered.  That’s why many culprits go scot-free. The conviction rates are very low,” said chairperson of Assam Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Sunita Changkakati during the recent launch of flagship report here titled ‘A study on the perception of girls’ safety in public spaces’ by Save the Children.

Appealing all to take up the cudgel against child abuse in an upfront manner, Changkakati said, “The parents have a greater role to play.  Do not discriminate between a girl and boy child. We need to render much inner strengths to our girl child. They should be able to defend themselves. If we want change in true sense let’s not hush up instances of sexual violence but to discuss openly and work in a proactive manner”

The findings of the study in the Assam reveal that around 65 per cent of the adolescent girls consider public transport unsafe followed by local markets and road to school, market and private tuition.

Crowded places, poor lighting, lack of effective police or civil security guards, etc. have been perceived as the characteristics of unsafe spaces.

The study highlighted lewd commenting, stalking and staring, physical assault to name a few as the safety concern for girls when they are in unsafe public spaces.

On the position of women, the study revealed that 67 per cent of adolescent boys are of the view that a woman’s important role is to cook, wash and take care of her family and 37 percent feels that a man should have the final word concerning decision making.

Around 43 per cent of parents feel that they would be uncomfortable allowing their daughters to get a job where they have to work with male colleagues, stated the study.

The study was conducted in six states of the country–Assam, Delhi-NCR, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Talengana and West Bengal.

In Assam, the urban part of the sample was taken from cities of Guwahati MC, Silchar MB, Jorhat Municiapl Board and the Bongaigaon MB and Mangalodoi municipality areas whereas the rural part of the sample was drawn from Darrang and Hailakandi.

Manashree Goswami

Manashree Goswami is a journalist based in Guwahati. She can be reached at manashree.oct@gmail.com

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