This happened sometime during the year 2004-2005, when Mangalore had become a fusion pot of traditional ethics brushed with contemporary and progressive outlook that the young generation tried to adopt. On one side we had orthodox middle class families and a few retrogressive men, who were of the opinion that girls wearing jeans and skirts were screaming to be sexually abused and were of low morals. On the opposite edge we had young girls wanting to explore their freedom, wanting to break free of the shackles and brave enough to take on the world who questioned their integrity or virtues.
During this time a baseless rumor spread akin to a wild fire about a sex trade happening clandestinely in the heart of the city, M G Road. The newly built, Empire Mall, which was the favorite hangout place for girls clad in jeans and miniskirts, sometimes walking hand-in-hand with their boyfriends, became the target of gossip mongers. The severely bigoted men had a field time singing their “I-told-you-so” songs and insisting that the mall culture entrenched western philosophies in Indian youth and encouraged ideas like dating and pre-marital sex.
My friend Anu was in town during her break from her hectic IT job in Bangalore. We had a whale of a time, hitting all the ice cream joints (if you have been to Mangalore and not visited Pabbas/Ideals then shame on you! ), shopping and talking nineteen to the dozen. Around 8 PM, we decided to check out the new Empire Mall and caught a rick. In Mangalore, we have only 2 seasons, either it’s scalding hot or it’s raining. And we Mangloreans are adjusted to the extremes of these temperatures.
That day when I and Anu went riding in the ill-omened auto rickshaw it was raining cats and dogs. Although we both know Kannada and Tulu (the regional language of Mangalore) and we were born and brought up in Mangalore, we were speaking in English. I don’t know if this put any ideas inside the obnoxious driver’s head, but midway he started grumbling how we youngsters had lost all decency and how the western influence had corrupted our traditional roots.
Something in his voice and conduct rang an alarm bell in our mind. He had a look of pure hatred and disgust on his face which increased the fear in my heart. Anu, who had always been bold and outspoken, asked him to mind his own business and not to speak nonsense, whereas I tried to reason with him that girls who dressed in western clothes were definitely not of low morality. My mistake, because some people are just born with pea-brains, they think that it’s their right to judge others who do not follow their misconstrued principles.
Now when I think back to the incident how I wish I had the Smart Suraksha app with me. I could have alerted my friends with just a touch of a button, without the perpetrator knowing and I could have alerted the police and avoided the appalling turn of events that happened in the next 10 minutes.
As we reached the mall, the driver had turned more abusive and Anu, who was always alert and smart (smarter than me for sure) called her brother on her mobile and asked him to come near the mall. Her house was quite close to the mall, so she was sure that he would arrive in few minutes.
When we got down from the auto, it was raining heavily and few people who had dared to venture out were huddled inside the mall. The street was practically deserted. The driver taking advantage of the situation asked for double fare and started arguing with us. Now, I and Anu were clearly seething with anger and refused to pay the fare until he apologized. We were not prepared for what happened next and even today when I think back to the incident, I shudder involuntarily.
The driver, who was clearly a psycho, a mentally deranged person, came out of the auto and raised his hand as if he was planning to hit us. We were terrified and started retreating back to the mall. A few people huddled under the mall’s awning came forward finally, realizing that the driver’s intentions had turned from bad to worse. And fortunately, Anu’s brother also came to help us after few minutes. Realizing that he had been outnumbered, the driver made himself scarce.
Once we were back in Anu’s house, we realized that we had been lucky to escape. We repented that in the entire commotion we had failed to notice the auto’s registration number.
In today’s age when crimes against women are increasing at a frighteningly alarming rate, it is imperative that every woman arms herself with ways to protect herself. It’s necessary to stay alert especially in deserted localities. Pepper sprays, heavy umbrellas or bags, learning self-defense methodologies all help in establishing a modicum of security in women. But we also need to utilize advancing technologies in making women feel secure and safe in India.
Apps like Smart Suraksha help not only in alerting friends and family when in an emergency situation, but also provide the exact location and other details, which are sent as an SMS to 5 contacts. It also alerts the police simultaneously, thus enabling the cops to act swiftly and responsibly.
The onus is on us to act swiftly and smartly. Stay Alert, Stay Safe!