On the threshold of completing my fourth year in Bangalore, I can honestly say that I love this city. I love its beautiful weather, its lush gardens, its seamless cultural mix, its endless gastronomic options, the way traditional values blend with cosmopolitan ideals. But what I love best is the fact that I feel safe here. I don’t have to look over my shoulder while walking down the road by myself. I don’t need to cringe and stiffen and try to make myself invisible when returning from work late. However, no place on earth can claim complete immunity to crimes, especially those against women, and Bangalore is no exception. Safety can never be over-stressed, and it’s always wise to keep your eyes peeled and your senses sharpened for any sign of danger.
Here are ten things I would advise everyone living in or visiting Bangalore to keep in mind, while enjoying their stay in this beautiful city. While these are especially applicable for women, I feel their usefulness for just about anyone can never be underestimated.
1.) Learn Kannada: Most people in Bangalore would be capable of as well as willing to converse in English and Hindi, even if broken. But knowing Kannada, at least a few key terms, certainly gives you an edge in projecting yourself as someone who is familiar with the city and consequently, not the best prospect for being taken for a ride. Also, in situations where you need any kind of help and the people at hand do not speak your language (which is not impossible), it certainly pays to be conversant in Kannada.
2.) Technology to the rescue: Bookmark http://www.bangaloreone.gov.in/public/helpline.aspx on your phone and laptop. This URL is a one-stop shop for all your emergency needs, including Ambulance, Fire Fighting, LPG, and as relevant to the current topic, the Police. You will find a list of all the police stations in the city and their respective contact details here. For emergency police assistance, dial 100.
3.) Be auto-wise: Most auto-drivers you would come across would simply do their expected job and some are particularly nice as well. But then, there is no dearth of disturbing incidents related to autos, the most common (and least evil) being overcharging, rigged meters and refusing to ply in a specific route. You can register your complaints regarding the same at 080-25588444 and 080-25588555.
i.) Avoid hiring an auto from an auto-stand. The auto-drivers who cluster together would almost always hike up the fare; and in case of any argument you might get into one, there is also the factor of being outnumbered by them. Walk a few paces and wait for a running auto.
ii.) Almost every auto would have the registration details of the driver taped to the back of his seat (that is, facing you). Casually take out your cell-phone and make a note of his DL number and vehicle number, or click a picture of it, without making him any wiser. In case of any problem, these can be used to catch hold of the driver.
iii.) If you are new in the city or are not familiar with the place you are commuting to, ask around beforehand for the right/ easiest route. Insist that the driver takes that route. Keep an eye on the lane names in shop banners you pass.
iv.) Avoid autos which have an assistant traveling with the driver.
v.) Be firm but polite in your dealings with the driver. Resist getting into arguments with them. If you wish to set right any misdemeanor, you can always complain officially later at the Helpline stated above. Walking away from an aggressive, abusing auto-driver is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of smartness.
vi.) Sit close to the exit when traveling in an auto (in the unfortunate case that you may have to jump off in case you smell danger). Do not sit holding your bag on your lap. If someone tries to steal your bag by pulling at its handle, there is the danger of your falling out of the auto. Keep it on the seat to your right, holding it in place.
4.) At the airport: Avoid unauthorized airport taxis like the plague. Same for unmarked/ private cars offering to drop you off for less money than you would pay to a cab. Walk straight to the endless stream of Airport Taxis lined up right outside Arrivals. True, they are more expensive than unauthorized cabs, but as we all know, safety doesn’t come with a price-tag. Or, walk a few steps further down and there is a fleet of gorgeous, air-conditioned Volvo buses to take you almost anywhere in the city (though you might have to wait for them to be sufficiently filled before they steer out of the parking).
5.) Rapist Lane is now Safest Lane. Or is it? A dingy lane near Bangalore’s Srishti School of Arts and Design (Doddabalapur, Yelahanka) is often referred to as the Rapist Lane because of the frequent incidents of rapes, molestations, eve-teasing and ogling going on there. As a part of an amazing experiment, volunteers from a group called Blank Noise set up tables and chairs along this notorious stretch of road and invited random passers-by to converse with them on topics all and sundry. The idea was to make this stretch the safest lane in Bangalore, and apparently, a number of the ‘stalkers’ actually came up to the volunteers and came clean over tea and snacks. I am insanely proud of this initiative. But, we don’t know for a fact that the experiment is a 100% success yet. Till it officially is, it’s probably a better idea to stay clear of this stretch, especially at night, more especially if you are alone.
6.) All that glitters can be snatched: Leave your dazzling gold jewelry at home (or better still, in the bank vault). A pair of ear-rings or a ring is fine, but set the limit there. Jewelry snatching is not at all uncommon in Bangalore, and gold chains seem to be the most favorite target.
7.) Getting rubbed up the wrong way: The police reveal that there are several hundred illegal parlors and massage centers in Bangalore. These, apart from being unregistered, are often involved in flesh trade and other illegal businesses. Stay away from shady-looking and/or nameless parlors/ massage centers in dingy streets. Remember, in any center, you have every right to demand same-sex massage and to get out of there if the center seems to offer only cross-gender ones, or of you are otherwise uncomfortable.
8.) The road less traveled: Avoid venturing into remote places and suburbs late into the night, especially walking or riding, as the roads are often dimly lit and police patrol is less frequent. If you have to drive down any such road, make sure your windows are rolled up.
9.) Getting taken for a ride: If you are a woman traveling alone, avoid taking a ride on one of the hundreds of private cars plying on specific routes in the city. Very often, these are manned by hired drivers looking to make an extra buck off the owner’s car without the latter’s knowledge. For that matter, even the Tempo Travelers (which many daily commuters swear by) look pretty unsafe to me, because these mid-sized vans usually have curtains and it’s difficult to make out what’s happening inside them. Buses seem to be the safest bet, especially the Volvos. Or, book a cab from a reputed, trusted agency (for example, Meru, Easy Cabs, OLA etc.)
10.) Mind it: A distracted person makes a fine target for all kinds of crimes – including pickpocket, abduction, molestation, snatching, etc. – which are in rise everywhere in the country, including in Bangalore. Resist the temptation to be engrossed in your phone, iPod or book when you are commuting. Keep your mind focused and your eyes on the road.