At 1 pm, when most students are done with their lectures for the day, the road outside HPT College comes alive. Youngsters spill out of the premises and on to the road outside – some choosing to enjoy a snack at the close-by food joints, others haggling with auto-wallahs for a ride back home. Amidst all this activity, some men start harassing a group of young female students. However, the latter immediately flip their phones out, snap the miscreants’ pictures, and send them to the Nashik Police’s Nirbhaya Squad . Within 10 minutes, the harassers are escorted to the police van by the squad.
Three months ago, the women would have had to undergo a long and arduous process of heading to a police station and lodging a report. However, since June this year, the Nirbhaya squad has streamlined this process of reporting harassers and molesters to a large extent – as seen in this particular incident. Furthermore, the squad tells us that they have detained and taken action against more than 2,000 such miscreants in the last three months alone.
Apart from immediate action, the squad also understand one of the women’s other major concerns – their names not being involved in police records. And so, in most cases, they take suo-moto action .
“While there are some cases where the harassers need counseling, others require strict action to be taken against them, and for cases to be lodged against them too,” shares Bhavana Mhajan, co-ordinator, Nirbhaya Pathak, Nashik Police . Currently, there are four Nirbhaya teams in the city, each with four female and four members.
Recently, Shenal Sonali, an engineering class operator, who teaches in the Dindori road area, sought their help. “A man would trouble a female student in my class constantly. She kept quiet about it, until it started affecting her academic performance. When I spoke to her about it, she finally opened up to me about the issue. I had saved the numbers of the Nirbhaya Pathak squad and rang them up. The issue was revolved instantly. Usually, women and girls are afraid to approach the police since they don’t want their names to appear in police records or dragged through the press. However, the squad ensures that doesn’t happen.”
In the last few months, the squad has circulated their numbers in and around the city, and also have a Facebook page, through which students can approach them.
Police sub inspector Neha Suryavanshi, who is part of the team, says, “We receive complaints via texts and messages, Facebook and calls. We don’t ask for the complainants’ names, if they are not comfortable with revealing them. Once we get the information, we usually approach the harassers in civilian clothing, and record the incident. We take immediate action.”
Apart from acting on women’s complaints, the team also approaches students and informs them about their work. “Recently, they visited our college to talk about what they do, and shared their numbers with us. A few days later, one of my classmates was heading somewhere for work, and felt like she was being stalked. She called up on their number, and soon a team arrived on the spot. Though they did not find any stalker, they made sure that she returned safely to her hostel,” shares Manasi Bhanushali , a final year student of Motiwal Homeopathy College.
Rickshaw stands, bus stops, and eateries close to city colleges are rife with harassers and molesters, say students. “They see college students as an easy target. But the Nirbhaya Pathak squads regularly station themselves at these points, and it has led to a considerable decrease in such cases of harassment,” says Prasad Kulkarni, a student of JDC Bitco college. Apart from colleges, the squad is also targeting public places, like markets and parks. Even work places and residential societies in the city are now seeking their help.