Live safe. Live smart.

I am participating in the Seeking Smart Suraksha contest at BlogAdda.com in association with Smart Suraksha App.

Vandana was leaned back on the backseat of the cab. At two in the night, the traffic was almost non-existent, a sharp contrast to the crazy daytime hustle. Vandana had dozed off after a long evening at the call center she worked in at Mumbai. Like every day, she was the last to be dropped. Her eyes snapped open as she felt someone shaking her roughly by the shoulder. The cab was still. It was the driver who had the back door open with one hand and shaking her with the other. It was the same driver who had dropped her home every weekday for the last six months.

“Get down,” the driver hissed.

Still in a daze, Vandana got out of the cab. The driver pushed her into the ATM he had parked in front of.

“Take out all the money you have in your account. Now.”

Trembling in shock and disbelief, Vandana reached into her bag, took out her purse and the ATM card from within it. The driver watched, his breath hot on the back of her neck. She punched in her code and drew out 20,000 rupees.

“More.”

The shock was instantly replaced by a burning rage in Vandana.

“I don’t have any more, you scoundrel,” she screamed at the driver’s face. “You think you are going to get away with this? I will report you, you…”

“No, you won’t.”

Vandana barely had time to register the silver gleam of the knife blade.

The next week, the call center officially made it mandatory that no female employee would commute alone in a company cab. And many other companies followed suit. But the truth remains that Vandana never made it back to her soft bed she was pining for at the end of the long evening. Nor to the dinner her mother kept for her in the microwave. All because a merciless criminal had decided that her 23-year-old life was worth only 20,000 rupees.

I wish she had Smart Suraksha with her.

                                                                                                ***

Like every morning, Rakshanda flagged down a passing auto and set out for her college. Deciding not to miss the opportunity to squeeze in half an hour’s last-minute revision for the exam she was supposed to write that day, she took out her notebook and was very soon engrossed in it. When she finally looked up, she was surprised to find herself in a dingy by-lane she had never seen before.

“Where are we?” She asked tentatively. “This is not the right route.”

“This is the right route,” the auto-driver replied tersely.

“Where are we? I asked you to take M.G.Road.”

This time, the auto-driver didn’t reply. And with a sinking heart, Rakshanda knew she was in trouble.

“Stop the auto,” she instructed, her voice trembling.

Instead, the auto-driver sped up, maneuvering the vehicle into lanes that seemed to get narrower with every turn. Her heart racing, in a moment’s brave decision, Rakshanda jumped off the auto and rolled over to a puddle, landing flat on her face. As people came running to help, the auto sped away.

Rakshanda got away with a hairline fracture on her right arm, a cut lip and deep bruises on her knees, forehead and elbows. And a more permanently bruised confidence. It would be a while before she would feel up to taking the roads on her own in Bangalore, the city she was born in, the city she called home, loved.

Because she didn’t have a chance to note down the auto’s number, the auto-driver was never caught, and in all probability, is out loose somewhere, terrorizing other unsuspecting women.

I wish she had Smart Suraksha with her.

                                                                                                      ***

There was no way Sophie was going to miss her favorite cousin’s wedding. And that is why even though she had a tinge of unease at the back of her mind, she took the bus by herself from Delhi to Chandigarh, right after she had finished writing the last paper of her college exam.

She hugged her overnight bag close to her chest, plugged on her earphones and looked steadily out to the failing light of the evening, trying to drown out the loud conversations and guffawing going on around her. What bothered her most was the three men sitting right behind her. As much as she tried to ignore them, it was getting increasingly difficult to ignore the snide remarks that kept emanating from them, permeating through her earphones.

Two hours into the journey, the woman next to her got down and one of the three men promptly came and occupied the vacant seat, a little too close for comfort. Sophie cringed, but kept quiet, reminding herself that she was to endure this only for a few hours. In the meantime, lewd comments kept coming her way, making her blood boil and increasing the panic she had been trying to keep at bay. At one point, one of the men put his feet up at the back of her seat, nudging her in the small of her back. Another one blew in her hair. Rakshanda sat stiff, not daring to protest, counting the minutes.

And after the five longest hours of her life, it was time to get down. Sophie had spent the better part of the journey worried that her uncle would be late. She had never felt such relief as she felt when she saw her uncle waiting for her at the bus stop. As she collapsed in a burst of tears into her surprised uncle’s arms, the three men walked away with a final rude gesture at her.

It’s true that she wasn’t raped. Or killed. She was not even molested. But all the same, no woman should have to bear with extreme eve-teasing of this sort. No woman should have to believe that the only choice is to endure.

I wish she had Smart Suraksha with her.

                                                                                               ***

Tanya was on her way back from the Christmas party at her best friend’s. She had laughed off the teasing her friends had bombarded her with when she got up to leave at nine. She knew she wouldn’t feel safe driving by herself from her friend’s brand new flat in suburban Calcutta to her home in Salt Lake later in the night. And she liked to be around to tuck her 2-year-old son in bed every night.

She woke up in a hospital bed the next evening, with vague recollections of four drunk bikers stopping her and an unbearable pain that made her lose her consciousness, the memory sending her into convulsions.

Having answered the same questions a humiliating number of times to  a varied assortment of people – what she was wearing, why she was alone so late, whether she was drunk, whether she knew these men – after two years, she still goes to bed every night, hoping to wake up un-raped, hoping to realize that it was all just a nightmare.

I wish she had Smart Suraksha with her.

Vandana, Rakshanda, Sophie and Tanya may be fictitious names. But each of these crimes is real; some reported, some not. Victims of such crimes are real. Their pain is much too real. So are the tears that roll of the headlines, making our morning newspaper soggy. These are the faceless, nameless women who are subjected to inhuman cruelty and shocking abuse every day in every corner of India. Each of these incidents represents a thousand such incidents shaking the core of our country. Their stories are not meant for us to shake our heads over and push to the back of our minds. They are a brutally honest mirror of the society; they are an appeal for change, for help.

And now, help is here. Smart Suraksha App. This Android App can be configured with the contact numbers of five people in your contacts list, and most importantly the police, who would be helpful when you are in an undesirable situation. In case of any predicament, at the touch of a button, each of these five people and the police will receive SMS notifications from you, along with your location. And this works even if your phone GPS is not switched on. When the situation permits, you can also add any other detail you might want your ‘saviors’ to know. With the Smart Suraksha App on your phone, it is almost as good as having five trusted friends and the police with you when you commute.

We spend hours surfing the net, communicating with friends, watching movies and listening to music on our smartphones. Let’s take a few minutes to install and configure this app. And encourage all our loved ones to do the same as well. For tomorrow, Vandana, Rakshanda, Sophie and Tanya could be our sister, our best friend, our neighbor, our mother. It could be I. It could be you.

Let’s live safe. Let’s live smart.

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