On 24th June 2014 at 9.30pm, a young woman (whom I will call Chandini to protect her identity) was asked to pay Rs.150 by an auto rickshaw driver for a journey of approximately 2 kilometers in Bangalore which should cost Rs.30 according to government prescribed fares. She refused to give in to his outrageous (and illegal) request and when she proceeded to photograph his license plate to report him to the Bangalore Traffic Police -- he started to harass her.
First, he grabbed her shoulder and began to shake her, screaming at her to delete the photo as he did so. Then he started taking photographs of her and made inappropriate comments. The physical and verbal abuse continued for 15 minutes while other rickshaw drivers stood by and watched. Finally, a representative of the auto rickshaw union came and held down the abusive rickshaw driver to help Chandini get away.
Chandini immediately went to the Bangalore Traffic Police station to report the auto driver for over charging, and was directed to the Bangalore Police to file the incident of assault. After repeatedly explaining the events to four different police officers, the police station refused to file an official complaint against the rickshaw driver and warned her that she would be targeted by the Auto Union if she took this incident too far.
Outrageous? Of course. Normal? Sadly... Yes.
Incidents like this (and far worse) happen every day. In Bangalore, all over India and all over the world. So why did we hear about this one?
Chandini used the internet. As soon as she got home after the incident at the police station -- as shaken as she was -- she decided to post on facebook about it. She got in touch with us at Jhatkaa and also asked her friends to put her in touch with journalists who would be interested in bringing a lack of safety of women in public spaces to light.
Within a few hours the post went viral on Facebook and over 20 journalists were in touch with us keen to cover the story. Within 24 hours, the post received 600 Facebook shares, we got calls from the transport minister, the head of the auto rickshaw union and the story was covered by over 20 national and regional media channels (print and television). The bigger success happened in the next 3 days when the police filed an official complaint, arrested the offending auto rickshaw driver and charged him for his offenses.
But that's not all.
For the whole week we ensured the issue kept trending in the Bangalore news. We supported Chandini in doing multiple interviews, providing citizens with a number they could call to share their support, and starting a city-wide conversation on every woman's rights to safety.
For us, the incident with Chandini was firstly an opportunity to shed light on the systemic problems that prevent women from getting justice for harassment. While there is already an increasing awareness that harassment is bad, there is less discussion on the dysfunctional role the police and courts play in addressing cases of harassment, and deterring these incidents in the future.
Secondly it was an opportunity to promote a young, female role model who demonstrated that victims of harassment should never remain silent. That social media and the web is a powerful tool to find information, contacts and case studies to help ensure justice when human rights are denied. Not only that, we also wanted to demonstrate that the internet is a great way to organize like-minded people and pool citizen pressure to ensure justice is delivered.
And finally it was to ensure that justice continues to be delivered for such cases.
On 1st July, after the story had peaked on social and traditional media, 700 undercover traffic cops, including 100 women, embarked on a 15-hour sting operation on autos where they posed as commuters to test the response of auto drivers. 3,360 rogue auto rickshaw drivers were booked for offenses ranging from refusing hire and overcharging, to not holding a vehicle permit or driver's license and reckless driving. Furthermore the police also promised to take this issue more seriously and conduct such exercises on a regular basis.
Power no longer remains in the hands of the few. The internet is enabling organizations like Jhatkaa to harness the power of the majority, where if we organize together we can fundamentally change the way our democracy works. And this story about Chandini demonstrates one of the thousands of ways we can choose to do that.
Here are some links to the campaign story:#TheAutoRaid, Bangalore Mirror -- http://www.bangaloremirror.com/bangalore/cover-story/TheAutoRaid/article... Traffic Police website -- http://www.bangaloretrafficpolice.gov.in/index.php?option=com_content&vi... force for tech savviness, The Indian Express -- http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-force-for-tech-savvin...