If you walk through Delhi’s Mangolpuri area, you’ll notice how women are more confident to be out, free from the fear of harassment. The entire area is aware of a ‘safehouse’ mechanism that is keeping women safe from harassment, thanks to alert residents. About a 100 shops and houses serve as safe houses for women in distress. The houses, covering an area of five blocks, are all marked with a neon sign that says ‘Surakshit Shehar’, or safe city.
Women who feel like they are being followed or are being threatened by stalkers can walk up to these houses or shops and knock on their doors at any time of the day or night.
The residents of the shops or houses have been trained by Plan India, an NGO that set up this project in the area as part of a larger plan called ‘Safer Cities’.
They have been told what to do when a woman comes to them for help: first, they make sure she is safe from any immediate harm. Then, one of them calls for the police. They don’t deal with the harassers by themselves, as they’ve been advised that it could lead to unwanted trouble, which is why they leave it to the cops. Every member of the house has been asked to assist women, ensuring that there’s someone at home at all times of the day or night.
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The residents of these houses have been validated by another NGO, AV Baliga Memorial Trust, to be trustworthy guardians. Jyoti Kandari, coordinator of the project in Magolpuri for AV Baliga, said to The Hindu, “We have been working in Mangolpuri for the last 35 years and know the locals very well. For now, we have selected only those houses, which are occupied by our own staff or by people we can vouch for.”
The houses were marked owing to their close proximity to public parks and such spaces, as well as street corners. A common observation was that public parks attracted eve teasers. To ensure that there’s easy communication between police and the residents, Vikramjit Singh, DCP, said that the residents have been given the beat constables’ numbers. The cops also have a database of the selected houses and shops in the area.
According to an anonymous woman who spoke to The Hindu, “The eve-teasers have stopped loitering around parks and streets which have ‘safe houses’ nearby. Everyone in our locality knows about this concept and are aware that the residents of the ‘safe houses’ will call the police at the first sign of any harassment.”
The project is also being implemented in Madanpur Khadan in South Delhi with the help of a local NGO in that area.
Currently, the neon sign is stamped on the wall of the house, visible from outside. Bhagyasri Dengle, the executive director of Plan India, said, “In the future, we plan to replace the current logos with luminescent colour logos for better visibility during the night.” Mangolpuri and Madanpur Khadan were selected because of a high crime rate against women in those areas. “The success of this pilot project will decide whether or not we take this initiative to other vulnerable areas in Delhi,” she added.