16th December 2012 is a date that Indian’s will never forget.
Dipesh Tank and his nine friends started a campaign called ‘War against Railway Rowdies’ in 2013 and helped the railway police to catch hold of 150 sexual harassers in Mumbai locals.
“I am not a superhero. I am a human too. I get tired at times….I want people to stop applauding and start doing it themselves. I dream of a day when I can let go a fight against eve-teasing because there will be enough people to fight against it,” he says.
The root of respect for women in Dipesh goes back to his childhood. Dipesh has been brought up by a strong mother, Rekha Tank, who started a catering business after his father was diagnosed with a knot in his pancreas.
“My mother would take extra care of the girl hostesses. She would make it a point to drop them home herself after late night parties. The way she brought us up made us understand that every woman deserves respect,” he says.
However, life took a turn for Dipesh On the evening of July 11, 2006. Dipesh was fast asleep after his shift ended.
Thus he started his NGO ‘Youth for People’, that rescues citizens in need of help. Everyone in the NGO keeps a day job and yet manages to reach out to people across the country.
“People were outraged. There were protest marches, but still every day this was happening to every other girl. I felt truly ashamed to be a man at that time. One thing was clear in my mind that the change has to happen from the very basics. And that day I made a promise to Nirbhaya that at least around me, I will not let this happen to any woman, ” he says.
Sexual harassment at the station was a huge problem. One day when Dipesh reached Malad station to get back to his work, he stood up against a group of boys who were hitting every other woman with a rose in the train.
“It was ridiculous… you don’t do it to your mother or your sister, do you? You don’t want anyone to do this to your wife, do you? Then why do you do this to other women?” One could hear the rage in his voice against such crimes when he asked the question.
“It is not their fault. We, as people, don’t even consider such acts as a crime. They have many big issues like rape, murder, drug dealing etc. to deal with. But we have to realise that it all starts from here. I remember Commissioner AN Roy saying that everytime you stop an incident of sexual harassment, you are stopping a potential rape. The police can’t be everywhere, so we have to stand up against it,” he says.
Soon Dipesh was joined by his friends Meera Damji, Vaishali Janarthana, Shweta Tiwari, Sunny Dhanoe, Avinash Mendha, Rajshri Deshpande, Riddhi, Nitin Rane and Virat Singh.
“85% of the women told us that they feel unsafe at the station where they are vulnerable to regular sexual harassment,” informs Dipesh.
A copy of the survey was sent to RPF, GRP, Prime Minister and even the President of India. The team also kept filming acts at the station and posting them on social media.
In December 2013, WARR volunteers assisted officials in nabbing harassers by videotaping them. It was the first such coordinated effort on the suburban network. And so far they have helped the railway police to catch hold of 150 offenders.
“We would film the rowdies misbehaving with women, and the police team would capture them at the next station. It was critical to show them (the cops) the intensity of the problem through video, which they would never understand without watching themselves. There were boys showing visual gestures of masturbation or passing horrible comments without an inch of fear. They had no fear because they knew that nobody would stand against something like this. But once they realised that such nonsense would not be tolerated against women and every time they do this we are going to make it more difficult for them, then they won’t dare to do it,” he says.
According to Dipesh, he has been beaten up many times by groups of eve-teasers, but these young bunch believe that this is another fight for freedom, freedom for women to travel without fear!
“Imagine if our freedom fighters were afraid of fighting, then? Understand that these people are more scared than us. But when good people don’t talk, bad ones get to talk,” says Dipesh.
Thus he started researching hidden cameras and found an interesting gadget. This was a pair of sunglasses with an inbuilt HD camera!
As this was not available in India, Dipesh asked a friend from the US to courier it. These days he just puts on his shades and makes lives of railway rowdies’ miserable.
In 2016, the program’s success expanded to 200,000 notebooks in 300 schools for 40,000 children.
“When you do the right thing, the universe protects you and enables you to do more good. So just stand up and do the right thing,” he says with a smile.