Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Staying Safe in My City

I am old enough to remember when my city was called Bombay. I was young then, and my city was a safe place. People said that this vibrant place where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis lived together was the best. 

People could travel home at late hours of the night and still arrive home safe. Women could come home late and not fear for their lives or their virtue (how quaint that word sounds!). Neighbours swapped sweets at festivals, and shared one another’s joys and sorrows. They watched over kids and everything felt safe.

It isn’t like that anymore. It hasn’t been like that for years now.

As a woman, I’ve learned to look over my shoulder when I walk. I’ve learned to watch the shadows that fall on the street beside me to see whether they are lengthening or shortening, depending upon the time of the day. I’ve learned to be wary of people, of strange things.

It ought not to be like that. I long for those days of innocence. When the world felt safe. There were bad things happening, but they seemed to leave us unscathed. Now danger hovers near.

I fear for my children, for my dear ones, for myself.

And I realize that if anything can save us now and again, it is the rule of Safety First and Always.

So here are my 10 Suraksha tips for staying safe in Bombay.

Pity I have to call it Mumbai now.

1)  Listen to your gut: Your instinct. Intuition. Women are blessed with the sixth sense. That inner voice which knows without knowing it knows, long before our conscious selves do, that all is not well, that there is danger in the air. We are all blessed with a Spidey sense that tingles. If only more of us would listen to it! 

Not all danger announces itself through tell tale signs, but there are a lot of times that it does. If someone or something makes you uncomfortable, be warned. If we only listened to our gut telling us not to trust certain people or to flee from certain places, it would bail us out of a heap of trouble.

2)  Verify, verify, verify: Make sure that the antecedents of your domestic staff, including cooks, maids, drivers etc are verified. Keep a current photograph of your domestic staff members with you and have them registered at the local police station. Get proof of their residence.

3)  Stay alert: When you walk on the street, make sure that your senses are alert. In the moment. Don’t talk on the mobile. And don’t listen to music. Whether the phone is glued to your ears or whether you have the hands-free earphones on -- both are bad ideas. You need your ears and your wits about you on the street. Whether it is to see the rickshaw, car or bus hurtling down towards you or whether to see that suspicious person rushing towards you with malicious intent. Suddenly rummaging in the innards of your voluminous handbag for a key, lipstick or equally insignificant something is also a bad idea.

Whether you are at home or in a hotel, it is best to be on your guard. Don’t open the door until you see who the person outside is. Have a safety door set up. Once you are indoors, make sure you bolt the door well as soon as you enter. Don’t leave the balcony door open. Or the window, for that matter, if there is no grill fixed on it. When staying at a hotel, don’t take off the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign even if you are going out for a while.

4)  In the driver’s seat: When you are driving, peer into the backseat before entering the car. Get into the car and lock it, before driving away. As far as possible, take known routes. Taking the road less travelled is a good idea when you are speaking figuratively, but not when you are being literal, and certainly not in the late evening or at night. Also as far as possible, stay in public spaces. Park in a parking lot that is easily accessible, not in a lonely area. By the same token, basement parking lots are a no-no. And have a trustworthy person walk you to your car, particularly when it gets dark. Never mind those sneers about how paranoid you are.

5)  Use your mobile phone well: Keep the phone numbers of family members, close friends and colleagues saved on speed dial. It is also a good idea to keep the numbers of women’s helplines handy. Apps like Smart Suraksha are a useful weapon to stock in your arsenal. Download it and use it when required. When you get into a taxi or an autorickshaw late at night, call a close family member or friend and tell them the licence plate number.

6)  On the commute: When travelling by local train at night, get into a bogie that’s meant for women alone for 24 hours. One of the women’s bogies on the Western and Central Railway lines turns into a general compartment at night. I have seen men rushing into those bogies past 10.30 pm. When travelling by BEST buses, make a big noise, if someone tries to grope you. Move away and sit next to women. 

Avoid travelling in an empty train or bus, at night. If you need to travel to Bandra by train at night, don’t get into a Bandra local. Get into a Borivali or Virar local, so there will be other people in the train with you. Also, avoid wearing flashy gold jewelery, unless you are Bappi Lahiri. When travelling alone, make sure you aren’t wearing a tight skirt or heels, so that you can run if you have to.

7)  On a night out: Go out only with people you trust. But don’t accept food or a drink from a stranger, no matter how handsome he looks and how charming he acts. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Watch it at all times. Take it to the bathroom, if need be. Make sure the drink is made in your presence. Failing that, drink only that which comes out of a sealed can or bottle. Also, make sure that at least one of your friends stays sober so he/she can drive you home.

8)  Save yourself: When in trouble, fight tooth and nail. Lash out at your attacker, but don’t flail around randomly. Hit him where it hurts, on areas where he is most vulnerable. For example, the eyes, the groin, the throat. Use those manicured nails to scratch his face. 

Bite. Claw. Jab. Stab. Thrust. Poke. 

It might incapacitate him for a brief spell, but at least it will give you time to run. Also, when you flee, take care to stay in crowded places, so you can lose the attacker. Don’t ever run into deserted alleys.

9)  Steel your mind: This is easier said than done, but it must be said. Don’t allow the attacker to know that you are afraid. Fear is natural, of course. I am filled with fear at the very thought of being accosted by an anti-social element.

But allowing the attacker to see your fear is the equivalent of losing the battle before it has begun. He will relish scaring you further, toying with you as a man-eater plays with its prey before tearing it to bits. Tell yourself that you will not allow yourself to be a victim. When you walk on the street, walk confidently with your head high. Don’t look frightened, even if you are. If someone accidentally brushes you on the street, don’t let yourself feel a sense of shame. Turn around and shout at the person.

10)  Be Cybersafe: Don’t let your FB friends in on every little sneeze and cough in your life. Especially don’t tell the whole world that you are going out on a vacation with your family. The information tells thieves that your house is unoccupied. As far as possible, avoid sharing personal information on social media. Nothing is private, as far as FB and Twitter are concerned.

Stay safe. 

I am sharing my Smart Suraksha Tips at in association with Smart Suraksha App.


  1. This is good advice no matter where you live. I grew up in Detroit and close-in suburbs. Now we have to worry about being car-jacked or shot just waiting at a stop light in the City. A shame that so many in this world have no respect for the lives of others.

  2. 1,8 and 9 had me nodding away. Loved the post. It needed to be said.

  3. feeling jittery thinking of such an unfortune moment but these tips really do give me courage
    Thanks for penning them down in a detail , orderly fashion

  4. Those are some very nice tips, Cynthia...Good luck!

  5. I lived in the Bombay that you talked about and experienced traveling very late and early mornings without any fear. Alas, no city is safe now including Bombay even for males!



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