City Chauvinism And The “My City Is Safer Than Yours” Complex

Posted: August 4, 2014

What happens when your city finds itself on a list of unsafe places? Does it sting your pride, or do you worry about the larger issue of safety? This article asks all the right questions.

Each time a city witnesses a slew of crimes against women and children, the print and online media are quick to publish surveys and statistics –  “Bangalore still the second most unsafe city for women,” and Women in Mumbai no longer feel safe. The articles then go on to compare cities for the number of crimes reported in each, and rank them based on related criteria.

So far, all right – seems like a valid numerical exercise to do, however incomplete. Yet, the debates that such exercises evoke on the media, Internet, and in popular discussion, always break my heart.

They break my heart, for one rarely hears, “I didn’t know women and children have it this bad in my city, we really ought to have better policing and public safety”; instead we hear, “That survey is false. My city is safer than yours,” or “My city is great for women, I’ve personally experienced it!” One step forward for city chauvinism: three steps backwards for feminism.

Stop confusing geographic pride for victim blaming

A year ago, an American student wrote a blog on CNN, detailing her traumatic experiences in India. The blog went viral, for women immediately identified with the harassment she had endured.  Soon enough, though, there were a series of ‘response’ articles on how the lady’s ordeal was singular and mostly her fault. Many women from all over chipped in with conjectures on how the American may not have smiled enough, mingled enough, or kept her wits about her. Some proceeded to spell out their own travel experiences complete with happy photographs, which they thought firmly established that India is a great place for women.

Others called the woman a racist! To be sure, the American had not labeled all Indian men as sex offenders; she had said how despite loving her other Indian experiences she felt tormented and unsafe. Why did people decide to feel collectively morally outraged at her very personal and painful account? Can we stop, sit back, and empathize? Or have we as a race lost that ability, and choose instead to blame the victim and associate with symbolic pride? If we must pick symbolism, at least let’s pick progressive symbolism – like feminism, say?

Putting our personal experiences in perspective

Sure, some of us have never faced public harassment and sexual assault – we’ve been able to stay out late at night, work till late, use public transport and enjoy public spaces freely – but does that mean we can judge our city, our country, or men as a whole? Worse, does it give us a license to falsify all accounts to the contrary? Instead of allowing our understanding of the world to revolve solely around us, it may be fruitful to listen to those who’ve seen worse and to empathize with, understand, and support them.

By belittling statistics and crime reports, we are doing not just women, but also our cities, a huge disfavour.

It doesn’t matter however long we’ve lived in a city or country, and how nostalgically we are connected with it; what matters is that some of us have been violated here, and if we truly care about our city, we ought to tell our law enforcement bodies to take such incidents seriously. By belittling statistics and crime reports, we are doing not just women, but also our cities, a huge disfavour.

Stop arguing with statistics

 Yes, there are lies, damned lies, and then there’s statistics. There are aspects to data collection and reporting that do not capture the whole story, but this does not make every criticism of statistics equally valid.  A valid criticism of crime rate, for instance, is that it is calculated per 1 lakh (hundred thousand) people, not just women and children. It also does not include dowry crimes, torture, and marital rape, or incidents of eve-teasing, cat-calling, stalking, and other criminal behaviour.

It can therefore be argued that crime rates are underestimations of what women and children suffer, and personal accounts of suffering must be taken together with statistics to understand the complete picture. Yet, personal anecdotes of safety and well-being do not cancel out the numbers: while two things must be added to understand something, subtracting them doesn’t become a valid mathematical operation!

In 2012, the National Crime Records bureau published a report putting crime incidents that year in Bangalore at 2263, pegging its total contribution to crimes in 53 most populous Indian cities at 6.18%, just below Delhi at 14.18%. One would think this would have made Bangalore citizens take public safety more seriously; instead, it led to them taking what Indians take best: umbrage. It was an attempt to malign Bangalore, they claimed, for they’d experienced its culture of respect for women first hand.

I wish to know what is this Bangalore culture and which sections of it ensure that women are unequivocally respected? Does it also contain a provision to over-rule any expression to the contrary? The 2263 women are, hence, liars? Some argued that the number was second to highest among all cities, for women here are more aware and approach the police better than women elsewhere. How does being educated lessen the concerns of public safety? Or have we made up our minds that the best use for crime statistics is to wager “My city is better than yours” bets?

Stand up for women, not geographies

Safety and unhindered access to public spaces are still faraway dreams for most women and children in India. These are our basic rights and we must demand them. Let us not drown our voices out in confused notions of nationality, race, regionalism, and nostalgia for places we’ve grown up or lived in. The next time our country or city figures in an unsafe for women list, or a woman says she feels unsafe in our city, let us stand up for women’s safety, not geographical pride.

 Pic credit: Howardignatius (used under a CC license)

I am associated as an advisor and volunteer with Magasool, a not-for-profit initiative

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Comments

5 Comments


  1. Interesting observations Aruna. And well presented too. I think the likely cause of this phenomenon is our collective apathy towards these incidents. On the one hand, we say there are more crimes being reported now than ever, and on the other, refuse to raise voice against them – worse, we get busy trivilalising them.

    • Quite right. Apathy apart, it is how we get busy trivializing them is probably far more dangerous (and hurtful). Thanks for reading!

  2. I suppose violence against women and children are the only things that matter. Men are disposable after all.

    • I am sorry that you feel so hurt when violence against women and children is discussed, and perhaps think it makes men sound disposable. It is difficult for me to see how the former leads to the latter, but right to safety has nothing that sets it in opposition to men’s rights. I don’t see how men’s rights are violated when we demand better public safety measures and right to safe access to public places for women and children; those men who’d feel less privileted when there’s more public safety are currently enjoying entitlement and not right, and the sooner we get rid of these entitlements the better. I am sure some day when you take it less personally, you will be able to see it has nothing to do with insulting men. Thank you for reading.

  3. Probably it is better to have some system that sends SMS to the nearby police station or patrol by SOS and by properly illuminating the street lights. If at the district level if every one is been given a target to reduce the crime rates, and answerable to their seniors on what steps they took we can have a soln, but this is just a temp one. If we need to change it completely it change needs to be presented through campaign as serious as smoking campaign. But the long term soln to reduce crimes against any gender need to be done based on the reasons.

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