A screenshot of the Biddhannagar police website
If you are a woman living in the posh Salt Lake area near Kolkata, the police have about a dozen helpful tips on how to stay safe. "Dress decently" is number 1; also featured are "be well-behaved" and "avoid late nights". As for commuting, the police recommends skipping crowded trains and buses altogether.
The bizarre do's and don'ts, posted on the Bidhannagar City Police's website in a section titled "Tips on Preventing Eve-Teasing", echo the archaic points of view expressed by "khap" panchayats or kangaroo courts in rural parts of the country, instructing women on how to dress and when to leave the house.
Ratnaboli Roy, a women's rights activist, had a tip in return for the police: "The officer responsible should apologise or resign."
That officer is Kankar Barui, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Detective Department. He is very surprised at the outrage the tips have triggered and sees no need to apologise. "My motto was to help them, not irritate women or men...It is my motive. They may have misunderstood me. What can I do?" he said.
"It is preposterous," said Anuradha Kapoor of the women's rights group Swayam. "Instead of taking steps to make the city safe for women, at all times, ensuring safe transport for women, asking men to stop harassing and behave themselves and take men to task, the entire blame and onus of safety is being put on women.".
Sources say given the outrage they have triggered, the tips could be reworded soon. Altering the mind-set of the police poses a greater challenge. Here are the twelve tips suggested by the police:
1. Dress decently.
2. Have emergency speed dial numbers in your phone.
3. Self defense.
4. Be aware of people around you.
5. Avoid late nights.
6. Carry pepper spray.
7. Be well behaved.
8. Stay in groups.
9. Avoid travelling in crowded bus or train.
10. Avoid going in isolated places
11. Walk in well-lit and frequented areas.
12. Be street smart.