Vijayawada's anti eve-teasing squad shoots to kill stalking; shames teasers with video proof

Lavanya Menon & Kiranmai Tutika accompany a Mahila Rakshak team in Vijayawada to bring to you a graphic account of how the cops of the city are taking on eve-teasers. And it isn’t a walk in the park.

Published: 14th February 2017 02:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th February 2017 03:06 PM   |  A+A-

Representational Image. | File Photo

Express News Service

Lavanya Menon & Kiranmai Tutika accompany a Mahila Rakshak team in Vijayawada to bring to you a graphic account of how the cops of the city are taking on eve-teasers. And it isn’t a walk in the park.

Vasanta Kumar leans onto the side of a scooter as he talks. Groin rubbing on its seat, he hunches down on his object of desire before making a proposition: “Nenu rana, nuvvu vasthava (should I come or will you)?” Silence has little effect on him. 

Most days, in the din of the junction where Apsara Theatre stands, it isn’t difficult for Kumar’s tribe to get away unquestioned, dissolving into the crowd before they can be called out. And on this bustling street saturated with the scent of roasting groundnuts wafting from push carts, where people and their attentions move this way and that, Kumar has found his cover; the tall man in the grey shirt could be anybody. 

Emboldened by his anonymity, Kumar goes on brazenly, his grin widening as he notices the deepening discomfort on the woman’s face.  “Nee rate entha (what’s your rate)?” he asks her, slicking back his oily hair. The woman, who appears to be in her mid-20s, wipes beads of sweat off her forehead with the end of her dupatta without making eye-contact. 

Immediately, three men rush in and surround Kumar. At first, he doesn’t understand what’s going on and tries to move past them, impatient to pick up from where he had left off. 

One of the trio grabs Kumar by the shoulder and pushes him back, another pulls at his sweat-stained shirt from behind and the third pushes him into the middle of the ring they have formed, but it’s not until a slap lands on his face that Kumar’s grin vanishes. The commotion distracts the packed junction and moviegoers spilling out of the theatre stop to watch. The show has just begun. 

Unluckily for Kumar, the woman isn’t the meek prey he hoped she was. Prasanna (name changed), an Armed Reserve Constable, is a member of the city’s Mahila Rakshak team and her cop groupies, who had positioned themselves discreetly a few yards away, were waiting for a distress signal to swoop down on the harasser. 

Armed with two spy cameras, the six-member team — one of 50 spread across Vijayawada — lies low at public spaces to check eve-teasing. The Mahila Rakshak teams, formed on January 26 along the lines of the She Teams in Hyderabad, have already detained 87 eve-teasers, including 19 minors, letting them off only after a counselling session along with their families and a stern warning that a repeat would mean a case against them under the Nirbhaya Act. Kumar is one of the 87. 

His fantasy fading, Kumar now tries to negotiate and wriggle his way out. 

Another firm jab on his shoulder and the 46-year-old understands that he should keep his mouth shut. M S K Arjun, who serves as an SI at the Krishnalanka Police Station, whips out a white handkerchief-sized cloth from his pocket, waves it open and hands it to Kumar who doesn’t seem to need an explanation this time. He holds it out for all to see: I support Mahila Rakshaks. 

Drenched in sweat, Kumar’s shirt, a size too small for his protruding paunch, turns a shade darker. A cop clicks a picture and passersby are finally in on what just happened. Kumar folds the cloth into a neat square and meekly gives it back, only to break into an unexpected run. But relief is brief. 

This time, the eve-teaser isn’t slipping into the crowd. He is promptly caught and taken to the Governorpet Police Station, even as pedestrians and giant-sized flexis of larger-than-life film stars and politicos on either side of the road stand witness. 

“We’ll have to let him go,” rues constable Snigdha (name changed). She is talking about another eve-teaser who was caught while Kumar was being taken away. “The incident wasn’t recorded,” she shrugs. No Mahila Rakshak is authorised to detain anyone unless a video of the eve-teasing incident is captured. The 100 cameras (pens, buttons, goggles, caps etc) that have been handed out to the 50 Mahila Rakshak teams aren’t foolproof, often getting stuck or not working at all. It isn’t uncommon that the efforts of the teams go waste and Snigdha knows how painful that can be. For the 26-year-old, the youngest in her family of four, life is a constant battle against patriarchy. 

She had to fight for education and a respectable job because her indisposed mother needed her at home and thought education was the preserve of men. “So being a part of the Mahila Rakshak is a matter of pride,” says Snigdha. Her first day as part of the team was a nightmare. Her uniform had given her the confidence she had never dreamt of and working in mufti meant giving up on that, albeit temporarily. “Over time, I have become stronger and my family, which believed a daughter was a curse, is slowly coming around,” she smiles. 

The job is anything but safe, with women members of the Mahila Rakshak teams admitting that they worry if the eve-teasers they catch will track them down. “A senior cop told me not to detain every harasser we come across. He warned that they could come after me,” reveals Snigdha, who believes the few minutes of counselling at the Vasavya 
Mahila Mandali is barely doing any good. “After the first counselling session, a man I detained walked up to me and said he thought I was a special woman, with a lecherous smirk,” she confides. 

To keep their cover, the teams shift locations as many as five times a day and shuffle between the five zones of the city — north, south, east, west and central — during their 15-day stints on the Mahila Rakshak job. Women cops, who comprise half of every team, however, serve no more than seven days at a stretch, lest their faces become familiar and their safety compromised. 

If one goes by records, crimes against women in the city are on the decline, slumping from 675 registered cases in 2015 to 409 in 2016, but the influx of people into the city with the new capital city coming up nearby threatens to turn the dip on its head. The Mahila Rakshak team has been put in place to see the city’s growth doesn’t come at the cost of its security. 

At the Rajiv Gandhi park, the Mahila Rakshak team’s next destination, Prasanna tells her 23-year-old teammate Lakshmi (name changed), “Don’t look nervous, you’re a cop, buck up!” 

Prasanna, who is mum to a toddler, says a Rakshak can’t afford to be scared. Lurking in the park is a gang far more dangerous than Kumar: the infamous Blade Batch. 

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