Fear and insecurity loom large across India in the wake of the rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad in Telangana and the sudden surge in the number of reported rape cases.
More appalling is the fact that stringent measures taken by the government, such as the introduction of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, did not act as a deterrent to the rapists and sexual predators.
Many cities appear to have become less women-friendly these days. Women cannot venture out alone at night without encountering prying eyes and threats of sexual assault.
In the wake of recent incidents, Malayala Manorama reporter Ninnie Mary Baby decided to do a reality check on how safe is Kozhikode city in Kerala for women at night. She walked through the city at midnight only to find the truth: "This city is not safe for women at night. Sexual predators will swarm around a woman who walks alone," she writes in this first person account.
Our lensmen - Russel Shahul and M T Vidhuraj - who followed her in this risky trip, clicked all the photographs accompanying this story.
Ninnie Mary Baby began her journey from the Malayala Manorama office at Nadakkavu at 11.30pm.
Before setting out from office, I thought it would be better to ring Kerala Police's Pink Patrol team. (Pink Patrol promises to ensure women's safety at public places.) But I was disappointed with the cold response from the other end. "Pink Police service will be available till 9 pm. You may call police control room after that."
But I decided not to call control room as I did not want to disclose the details of my 'night operation.'
From the LIC Corner Bus Stop at Mananchira, I walked towards Town Hall. When I reached Kidson Corner, a car came to a screeching halt next to me. The men in the car asked me something, but I ignored them and continued walking. However, the car followed me at a slower pace. But they left after some time when they realised that others were watching them.
When I reached the bus stop near the Teachers' Training Institute, a few bikes and cars approached me. They too asked me something. Again, I tried to ignore them.
As I was close to the bus stop, two men, in their 20s, came to my rescue. "Don't walk alone at this time. These vehicles are following you as you are alone," they said. The young men were so concerned about my safety.
I told them that my friend was waiting at the nearby Model School Bus Stop.
A few seconds later, A bike and a scooter with Karnataka registration stopped near me. From the very first sight, I knew that they had some ill intentions. I was shocked As I was moving backwards, the young men came running for my help. They even offered to take me to my home. They were visibly upset with the turn of events.
As the youngsters could not spot my friend, they politely told me not to stand in an isolated place. "Tell your friend to come to the busstand, we will take you there," they said. But I turned down their request again. I proceeded towards the Income Tax Officer Road. I was shocked to see many vehicles following me.
A middle-aged man who rode a scooter registered in Karnataka came to me. He solicited me. "Tell me the place and sit in the back quickly." But he fled when I gave him a hard stare.
The youngsters once again came to me when I reached the walkway to the State Bank-CH Flyover Bus Stop.
"You may please go now. If you are scared of coming with us, we will hire an autorickshaw for you. We cannot leave you alone here," they said.
I told them that there was enough light in the area and I would walk to my destination.
Meanwhile, the man who rode the Karnataka-registered scooter approached me again. "I will give you Rs 10,000. Get in," he ordered. I had to raise my voice to scare him away.
The man who rode the Karnataka-registered vehicle once again approached me when I was walking towards Deewar Hotel. "Is Rs 15,000 ok for you?" he asked. He fled when he spotted the police patrolling vehicles in the vicinity.
As I thought the nightmares were over, I was shocked to see a car approaching me as I was walking on the upper Palayam road. "Get in. I will drop you wherever you want," the driver told me. But I managed to evade him with the timely intervention of my photographer colleagues.
As I was waiting to cross the Palayam junction, a bike-borne man approached me. "Where are you going?" he asked me.
"I am waiting for a friend," I replied.
"This place is not safe, There is a mosque nearby. You can stand there," he said.
When I told him that my my friend would come there, he pointed towards the autorickshaw stand. "You can stand there. At least some people are there."
When I was walking towards Palayam bus stand, a middle aged man walked up to me on the footpath. He splashed a few Rs 500 notes to solicit me. "Come, I will drop you wherever you want."
The person, who had asked me to stand in front of the mosque, came rushing when he saw my argument with the middle-aged man. "Shall I drop you at the bus stand?" he asked.
An auto driver too promised me to drop at the bus stand free of cost. "This is not a safe place. Daughter, please do not stand here," the auto driver told me.
When I reached Palayam market, two policemen stopped me. "Why are you roaming around? What's your intention?" they asked.
I told them that I am a journalist. "Are you practising journalism at midnight? Go home," one of them ordered.
The police did not listen to me. When I asked the names of the policemen, one of them shouted at me. "How dare you to ask name of the policemen? We will teach you a lesson," said one of them
Lessons I learnt
The city is not safe for women at night. Sexual predators will swarm around a woman who walks alone. But our youngsters are beacons of hope. I also found several people, including the autorickshaw drivers, who are keen to ensure women's safety at night.
Yes, there are many sexual predators in this city, but there are rays of hope too.