We all know that there are more women in Kerala than men – an exception in a country where girls are being eliminated before they are born. We also know that women in Kerala are more educated, have longer life expectancy, and get married later than women in the rest of India. Yet, ask them whether they feel safe, and they will tell you a story that speaks of disempowerment, of helplessness, of anger.
Sakhi, a women’s resource centre, and several other women’s groups set out to survey women’s perception of safety in public spaces in four cities in the state – Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Kochi and Thrissur. Their findings blow the lid off the myth about the power of women in Kerala.
The overwhelming majority of women surveyed in these four cities said that sexual harassment was their main safety concern. They routinely experienced verbal and physical harassment. Buses that the majority of working women are forced to use were a primary site for such harassment. Women passengers were groped, pinched, leaned upon. Apart from male passengers, even the conductors took their chances.
Girl students in particular had a torrid time. One student reported how someone who stood behind her sliced her dress from top to bottom with a sharp instrument. Another spoke of the abusive language used by bus conductors. Other women talked of being leaned upon, about men “accidentally” falling on them when the bus took a turn, of men using every opportunity to touch parts of their bodies.