BANGALORE: Bangalore's reputation as one of the safer cities for women in the country suffered a major blow recently, with the rape of a techie in a paying guest (PG) accommodation in Electronics City. News reports say that the intruder had studied the movements of the survivor and her roommate for months before the assault.
Thousands of PG accommodations have come up in various neighbourhoods in the city to provide shelter, and sometimes food, to men and women from outside the city. Due to security concerns, owners of women's PGs restrict the entry of men into their premises. However, in the cases that we came across, the managements have not only let the miscreants enter, but have also refused to take responsibility for the losses incurred by the inmates due to intruders. In most cases that City Express found, the PGs had no safety measures to speak of.
Nikita Chandok, an employee of Wipro Technologies, was witness to a horrific incident at a PG in BTM Layout in February 2012. A man with a sickle sauntered into the PG one afternoon and found Nikita's roommate in a room that was open. He stole their laptops, money and jewellery at knife point and even attempted to molest the girl.
"That is when my other roommate walked in with her plate of lunch. Startled, she threw the hot food on him, grabbed the other girl and both locked themselves in the bathroom. They then started calling up their friends for help. He banged on the bathroom door, threatening to break in and rape them. Thankfully, by then our friends reached the spot, and upon hearing the din of people running in his direction, the intruder fled with our stuff," she recounts.
Despite filing an FIR with the police, no action was taken, Nikita says. "The PG owner blamed my roommate for wearing too much jewellery and attracting intruders. Eventually, they did set up grills and security equipment in the building. But we were too scared to stay there," she adds.
The girl who was cornered by the intruder suffered injuries and was taken back to her hometown by her parents, while the other inmate too eventually left the city to get married. Nikita currently lives with her friend in Lakkasandra.
She further told us that the PG owner left the main door open during the day and anyone from pizza delivery guys to potential rapists could enter and exit the building as they pleased.
Sanketh Naidu, a city-based youth, claims to know of at least three break-in cases in a PG in AECS Layout. Refusing to divulge details, he says, "Every time, the girls managed to get away without being sexually abused. Once, they even overpowered an intruder and locked him up in the room. But he jumped off the balcony, broke his spine and still managed to escape."
"They did file an FIR, but the girls' parents came to the city, closed the case and took them back to their home town," he adds.
In most cases, the survivors' parents refuse to take the case to the police, as they feel it would affect the future of their daughters. They fear that the criminals would stalk them and try to cause trouble again. In such times, taking them back home seems like the best thing to do.
It has been a difficult week for Akshata Chaudhury (name changed), who had to vacate her PG last week, following a narrow escape from being assaulted by an intruder. She used to live in a room on the terrace of a building with her roommate, while the owner of the PG lived downstairs. A little after 11 pm on June 7, Akshata noticed a man outside the window next to her bed and shouted to ask who it was. He ducked and then reappeared at the second window. "He looked at me and then made a teasing sound with his tongue, as if he was daring me to catch him. I screamed for help and called aunty (the PG owner). She brought the police and had them check the entire building. They couldn't find him. Even though aunty stayed with us for the next few days, we were too terrified to sleep," she recalls.
Akshata has temporarily moved in with her friend and is looking for another place to live. "I read in the newspaper a few days back that the guy we saw has been arrested. Apparently, he does this a lot," she adds.
"My roommates and I were once robbed by a man in our PG," says Kriti Mahajan, a PR manager from the city. "What was shocking was that he knew exactly where we kept our valuables and stole just the money and specific things. It seemed like he had been studying our sleeping patterns as well, for he broke in at 3 am, a little after we'd all gone to bed," she says.
"Our PG owner refused to take any responsibility or go to the police. We were also new in the city and were traumatised by the incident," adds Kriti, who vacated the PG, which is located in HSR Layout, in less than a month after the break-in.
Shifting to apartment buildings is not a safe alternative either, say women residents. Seema B (name changed), who lives in an apartment in Koramangala with three other girls, was recently attacked while she was entering her home. "We live on the first floor and above our floor, there's just the terrace. The stairway is dark as the lights there haven't been fixed and it's quite narrow as well. One night, when I reached my door, I felt as if someone was watching me from the top of the stairs that leads to the terrace. Instead of running down, my first instinct was to open the door and get into the apartment as soon as possible. I quickly ran in, but when I was closing the door, the man ran down and tried to force his way in. It took all of my strength to push the door back and close it. He ran away as soon as I closed the door," she recounts. Seema spent the next couple of nights at her friend's place but she's now considering moving to a safer apartment with proper security.
Speaking about the issue, Additional Commissioner (Law and Order) Kamal Pant says, "Paying guest accommodations have mushroomed across the city in the past 8-10 years. They are a type of cottage business run by small players who cannot invest too much on security. Such businesses are so many in number that it is impossible to regulate them. And crime that happens in such establishments is just like crime everywhere else. It is upto the public to choose wisely."
"Young men and women staying in such facilities should exercise caution. Always keep the phone number of the local police station and control room with you and don't hesitate to file a complaint in case of a break-in," he advises.