Recommendations on Women’s Safety to the Committee

The Telangana State Government had recently constituted a committee for effective implementation of various legislations meant for the safety and security of women in the state. Poonam Mala Kondaiah, Smita Sabharwal, Shailaja Ramaiyer, Soumya Misra, Charu Sinha and Swati Lakra along with Sunil Sharma are members of this committee. In this regard, Hyderabad Urban Lab gave suggestions to the committee. You can download a pdf copy of the report from here.  The committee’s final recommendations can be downloaded from here. You can read the full text of the report below.

 Lessons from Cyberabad on crime against women

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE COMMITTEE ON

WOMEN”S SAFETY IN TELANGANA

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, crime data has become more easily available. It has become possible to discern spatial patterns of crime. There is a distinct spatial pattern to the crime against women in the state of Telangana according to these statistics. A disproportionately large number of these crimes are taking place in Cyberabad Police Commissionerate.

According to a news report published in The Hans India on Feb 11, there was an increase of 25 percent in cases of crime against women in the Cyberabad Police Commissionerate in 2013 from 2012 (Rising from 2012 to 2391 in 2013)1. A breakdown of those numbers would reveal that there have been 138 rapes, 129 women kidnapped, 350 assaults on women with an intent to outrage their modesty and 338 cases of insult to the modesty of women. Hyderabad Police Commissionerate has significantly lower incidence of all the above crimes during the same period.

A preliminary examination of this data points to two questions.

  1. Why is there an increasing trend of violence against women in Cyberabad and its environs?

CV Anand, the Commissioner of Cyberabad attributes this to more and more women coming forward and complaining on crime against them. However, media observers point out that it could also be that women are more vulnerable to attacks in the Cyberabad commissionerate jurisdiction2.

  1. Does the fact that the jurisdiction of this commissionerate has a high concentration of software firms have anything to do with this pattern?

While it is tempting to conclude that this is indeed the case, there is no clear evidence that software employees are more likely to be victims of crime than any other women. News media tends to provide more coverage to victims if they are from the software sector, and as a result there are heightened anxieties.

Women working in the software sector face unique challenges in terms of personal safety, and there is certainly a need to provide greater confidence to women employees in the software sector, especially in light of the recent changes in labour laws relating to women’s working conditions.

In real terms however, perpetrators of violence often tend to look for vulnerable targets. In Cyberabad commissionerate area, this could include any number of working and non working women who live in and or commute to the area. There is a serious need to monitor and research the different sources of vulnerability of women in this region.

In this regard, we offer the following recommendations based on studies conducted by Hyderabad Urban Lab. The recommendations are organized in three sections, the first focusing on hardware solutions and the second on social initiatives and the third on data practices.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. HARDWARE SOLUTIONS

Invest in research: Surveillance technologies ought to be used judiciously

Hydrabad’s experience in the use of CCTVs is comparable to international experience. Cyberabad Police have demonstrated that CCTV surveillance can help in investigation of some cases. However, CCTV’s value in deterring crime in Hyderabad is still an open question. To maximize this effect, careful study has to be made with the specific goal of identifying the primary triggers and sites of crime and deploy cameras accordingly.

According to news reports citing vague claims that London has managed to bring down crime by 80 per cent by the use of CCTVs, the Government is planning to install a large number of CCTV cameras across the city.

However, scientific studies by reputed criminologists suggest that claims about surveillance technologies directly leading to fall in crime rate are often exaggerated. Research evidence from across the world, including London, which has become a model of high density surveillance, suggests that the CCTV surveillance has proved useful in targeted contexts especially for property related and vehicle related offences. While surveillance technology primarily a tool for investigation, its deterrent effect varies by context and length of use.

Deterrent effects of CCTV in fact fade after a period of time. There are serious concerns about how the CCTV viewers subjectivities play a role as well as about data security. Whenever new technologies are put in place they create a period of uncertainty for offenders. This fed by publicity that crime is going to become more risky. However, over time this uncertainty fades and new crime skills are developed. In short, investment in new surveillance technologies is at best a short term deterrent. In the long term, only an investment in social institutions can guarantee safety for women. (Brandon and Farrington 2004; Armitage 2002) 3

Expand public transit, regulate paratransit

As the Cyberabad Commissionerate covers an area that has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. During this period, public transportation has not grown adequately and at comparable pace. Initially, many employers used to provide door to door cab services for their employees. Over the years however, companies have grown more confident and newer companies do not offer such services and even the older companies have begun to withdraw or cut back on such benefits to their employees. As a result, more and more people have been depending on paratransit. Much of the para-transit in the area operates in the grey area of the law. For example, there are fixed routes for 7 seater auto-rickshaws. But these are not adequate for the mobility needs of women. Thus shared cabs, shared autorickshaws and drivers of private vehicles offering rides to passengers has become a trend. According to crowd sourced data with Hyderabad Urban Lab, there are over 100 routes on which shared four seater autorickshaws are plying in the city. However even this paratransit has been inadequate for the increased transportation needs in the city. It is this unregulated paratransit and absence of public transit which are proving to be the sites of crime against women.

Unregulated transit: One measure to improve the safety of women in areas, particularly Cyberabad is to increase the public transport buses in the area. It has been proven that areas with thriving public transport make cities safer for not just women, but also the elderly, disabled and children. As part of the research at Hyderabad Urban Lab, we’ve made a map of frequent bus routes in Hyderabad . While areas within the old MCH area are well served, areas such as Hitech City, Kondapur, Kothaguda, Hafeezpet do not have too many frequent network buses. Below is a screenshot of the map and the frequent bus network thins out as one progresses towards Cyberabad.

A snapshot of the frequency transit map

These are large areas with no access to formal public transport. The only means of transport in these areas are share autos and cabs. Undoubtedly, these modes of transport provide livelihood to several lakhs of people. However, these are not regulated systems and women are at a greater threat using them. The rape of a young techie picked up by two people near Inorbit Mall who were posing to be cab drivers is one such instance.


2. SOCIAL INTERVENTIONS

Take neighborhood businesses into confidence:

Another way to make cities safer for women is through neighbourhood responsibilities for security. Most Indian cities have culturally had the habit of looking out for women. There is a reason more women feel safer in the old bazaars in the city than most shopping boulevards in the western suburbs. Cyberabad Police could initiate a program where schools, hospitals, medical stores and even kirana stores could offer to help in keeping the neighborhood secure.

Saturate public space with positive and negative messages

Harassing women can be actively discouraged by the use of campaigns such as the one in Boston which reads, “rub against me and ill expose you”. Coupled with positive messages through public announcements in areas could help.

Invest in skill training for law enforcers

There have been several sensitising programs for the police in order to better handle cases of crime against women. This emphasis on sensitization is useful but in the process it appears that adequate attention has not been paid to skill enhancement. Law enforcement officers need to have new skills in quickly interpreting the information and translating it into documents, data and action. Institutions like NALSAR can be enrolled to provide training for station house officers, writers and frontline officers.

3. DATA INITIATIVES

Develop databases responsibly.

Documentation of crimes can be very crucial in helping fight crimes against women. For instance, the Human Rights Forum in the early 2000s had documented a series of attacks against middle aged women. There were clear patterns of the attacks happening only in the outskirts and particularly near toddy shops. However, neither the police nor the press noticed these patterns because no usable data was available on these offences. Police departments need to invest in preparing usable databases and take all ethical and legal questions into consideration while making them publicly accessible.

Promote ethical data practices and encourage research based interventions

The current existing databases of the police are not well maintained. In this connection it is worth taking note of the fact that the Cyberabad Metropolitan Police’s publicly accessible database (and map) 4is plagued with issues such as bad data, ways in which the database was categorised, issues pertaining to the collection and visualisation process and the issue of privacy.

The Cyberabad Metropolitan Database

It can also be seen that the latitude and longitude values for the instances seem ad-hoc. The categorisation process could be derailed by a policeman who could improperly categorise a case. In the image above, any visitor can see the name of a foreign visitor, her employer and her phone number.

Overall, while the initiative to maintain databases is commendable, we believe that it is important for the police to invest in proper orientation to the staff on ethical and scientific database management.

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2 The Hans India, 11 February 2014“Accessed from http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/2014-02-01/Cyberabad-police-Commissionerate–divided-85513

3Welsh, Brandon C., and David P. Farrington. “Surveillance for crime prevention in public space: Results and policy choices in Britain and America.” Criminology & Public Policy 3.3 (2004): 497-526.

For more discussion see Armitage, Rachel. “To CCTV or not to CCTV.” A review of current research into the effectiveness of CCTV systems in reducing crime. London: Nacro (2002).

4 http://tecdatum.in/crimemap.aspx

 

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  1. September 21, 2015

    […] year, in our recommendations to a committee on women’s safety we insisted that the Cyberabad area needs more public […]

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