If you grew up in the late 80s or early 90s, you would remember the video game Contra with military commanders who would navigate the rough, rocky terrain to beat the bad guys. Oh, the joys of somersaulting and shooting instead of the straight, boring jumps of Mario and Luigi butting their heads on bricks full of golden coins and magic mushrooms. What added to the Contra charm were the very cool blue and red bandanas that the two soldiers wore. The game was as exciting for a little girl playing it with her brothers as much as it was, for them. It’s a pity there were no women in it.
But today, the scene is different. Not in the video game but ground reality where there are more women police officers in the force than ever.
And perhaps for the first time since the early 70s when the first woman officer joined the force, the government has noted that women police and paramilitary officers need different body armours from men to protect themselves simply because anatomically, women are built differently. The male body armours were poorly fitted and even caused breathlessness in many cases.
It might have taken almost six decades to give women customised body protection gear when they go out against rioters and face violent encounters, but for once, let’s just celebrate this move of empathy.
The Defence Research Development Organisation has ergonomically designed this armour using anthropometric data. It comes with anti-shrapnel and anti-stab protection, protects the vulnerable parts in close combat and riot situations, cane attacks and also prevents acid being thrown at the women. Also, unlike the NASA spacesuits that hindered a woman astronaut from going to space, the Full Body Protector (FBP) comes in three different sizes – small, medium and large. Heck, I want to don this suit and Contra my way through a stream of rioters.
Perhaps this body protection gear could be advertised to encourage more women to join the police force. After all, haven’t men always been attracted to the uniform of the military forces?
Of course, not all women have these body armours to navigate a rough, rocky terrain of merely going to work every day. Public transport and public places for women are not less than a battleground, and while a full-blown body protection gear might not be needed, women could do with safer ways to commute to their workplaces.
In Delhi, the AAP government recently proposed free metro rides for all women to bring more women to use the service. We welcome the idea of encouraging more women into the public space to make it safer. It will also be a stimulus for women who wish to seek work opportunities in far-flung areas that were inaccessible, so far. But a quick ride in the metro will reveal some loopholes.
While the metro is comparatively safer, the moment you are out of it, each women is on her own, to jostle with the groping crowds at the metro stations, leering and sometimes stalking men, haggling prices with the auto rickshaw drivers who never seem to go anywhere and sometimes even dangerously walking alone on desolate, low-lit streets to reach home after a long day at work.
I remember many friends swearing by the akimbo position in DTC buses in the no-metro days. Put your bag in the front to cover your chest area so no one can grope. Your elbows out and pointed so no man can use the ‘crowded bus’ excuse to inch closer and despite this, if he does, then step over his foot with all your might until he winces in pain and repeat this with different men until your bus stop arrives and you are safe to breathe. Fighting back was not always an option – reasons we will get into, on some other day.
From what I have experienced, the situation hasn’t changed much, and while a free metro ride is a definite incentive for women to use more public transport, stringent steps need to be taken to ensure point to point safety, to make women stay out fearlessly, in public areas.
A friend joked that she uses her make-up as an armour. The bold red lipstick is her way of hiding behind a mask on days she feels like it.
However, there is one armour that all women can use – other women. Watching out for each other’s backs can prove to be the most significant armour in a space where you don’t know anyone. Today, it might not happen to me but if I stand up for another woman in a time of need and build this solid armour of support and not be a bystander each time; it can go a long way in building trust and feeling safer in public areas.
In fact, this same support can be extended in other ways like by sharing which places are safer for women to be in, including their workplaces.
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