Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Single and Scared: I live in Delhi

I am a single woman in Delhi and I am scared. I am very, very scared, for my life, for my dignity, for my reputation, for my sanity and most of all, for my safety. I am what the gossipy aunties of the city contemptuously refer to as “modern-types”. I live with flatmates and go out with friends. I have friends who are boys and I wear pants and dresses. I come home late after a late-night movie show sometimes and go out for dinners. I have nobody to hold brief on my account and so, it is very plausible that the fruits of this “modernity” could turn out to be very bitter for me.

Delhi can be very cruel to single women. One gets used to the constant staring and comments. One gets used to that occasional incident of groping and molestation. One gets used to every man, woman, child, animal, piece of furniture, tree, vehicle and grass giving you advice on what to wear, how to talk, when to go out and when to stay in, who to interact with, how to avoid eye-contact with everyone all to ensure that you are safe from being raped. I constantly hear unsolicited advice from unconnected neighbours and colleagues who tell me that if I don’t dress or carry myself a certain specific way, I am inviting and provoking an attack on myself. Yes, when I wear a skirt in summers, I don’t think about the excruciating heat outside, I think about inviting potential rapists to defile me because that’s just how I like to roll. Nobody preaches to the boys about maintaining that basic standard of control which separates us from animals, but I should be careful about making eye-contact. Who knows where it may end. If I am a single girl who goes to parties at pubs and clubs, enjoys that occasional drink, well, then I am a lost cause. Nobody can save me from getting raped one day then and I should just accept it.

Recently, I had an experience with a certain landlady whose husband, claiming to be a Supreme Court lawyer, constantly threatened me with dire consequences if I asked for my deposit back when I wanted to move out of their house. “You are a girl, you better be careful,” he would say menacingly. I wondered if it meant that had I been a man, I could’ve afforded to be not “careful.” Then when I fought to reclaim what was rightfully mine, my parents were informed that I have boys coming over to my house which obviously means that I am running a “racket” in their house. The impunity with which the said “lawyer” decided to caste aspersions on my character, despite having a daughter at home, was a bit unnerving. It reminded me of a grave mental set that people in Delhi suffer from: Single Girl = Bad! Therefore, if I were to be molested or raped tomorrow, some people will say, “she asked for it” and that is what scares me the most.

A rape should not be taken as a sexual crime; it is a psychological crime which gives the perpetrator, more than anything else, a power high to be able to dominate over another human being. The resistance to the use of force is perhaps what keeps him going. Inserting foreign objects and assault of the woman thereafter is just adding insult to injury, marking their territory, being a man. What scares me more is that fact that in that bus where that hapless medical student was gang-raped and tortured for 45 minutes by six “men”, there was not even one of them who thought that this is wrong. Is that how sub-human our society has become?

When Delhi’s chief minister Mrs Shiela Dikshit in all her wisdom suggests setting up fast track courts to ensure speedy justice in rape cases and calls the recent gang rape and assault a “shockingly extraordinary case”, I shudder. The medical student gang rape is not extraordinary, if anything, it is beyond ordinary in the rape capital of the country. With 582 registered rape cases thus far, we are way ahead of most other metros, cities, towns and villages. We have had many rapes in moving vehicles, many women who didn’t survive the ordeal and many who did physically, but mentally, something died inside them. As a former journalist, I myself had the privilege of covering many such cases. My experiences taught me that girls and women should stay away from known people because most of the rapists are known to the victim. I also learned that we should not talk to strangers because that could provoke them to rape. We should not travel in isolated areas, but this rape happened in a densely populated area. We should use public transport and avoid taking autos at night, but this was a bus. We should always travel with a male friend or relative at night, only to get them assaulted too. So, in short, women should avoid known and unknown people, avoid travelling in isolated or crowded areas, not take private or public transport and must travel with a male friend, although, it doesn’t matter. Simple!

Delhi Police is patting its back on solving the medical student gang rape and assault case within 24-hours. Congratulations! The bus, in which this heinous crime took place, crossed some 20 police barricades, at least three police stations and was plying on the high security airport road. The victim and her friend were thrown off the bus to die barely 20 meters away from a police control room van and the incident happened at 9:30 pm on a Sunday night in a high security densely populated area in a moving bus which was not even supposed to be moving around at that time, the victim may not survive, but you solved the case in 24-hours. We are all very proud!  

May be it is time that a leading underwear brand launched its anti-rape underwear which were launched across Europe and the US, in Delhi too. However, for Delhi’s beastly boys, may be a tagline, “No means no” or “Ask first” would not suffice. Perhaps the brand should consider making iron-clad, bullet-proof chastity belts for us single ladies in Delhi and if even that doesn’t work, then may be we should all willingly get infected by AIDS to scare away potential rapists.  

Having house-hunting for months now, I finally found a house which fulfilled my “unrealistic expectations”: A gated community which is secure and in my budget. While almost moving to a house last month, I asked the realtor how safe it was. He said, “It is a very safe area, there have been only one or two incidents and that too on the approach road, nothing inside the colony.” Mr. Realtor, one incident is all it takes. I didn’t move there, upped my budget further and started my search again. This well-meaning realtor suggested that I should take self-defence classes and Delhi government should arm women to safeguard themselves. I smiled at his naivety. Women don’t want to be armed, we just want to be safe.

All this while, I used to resent when my parents would tell me to not go out till late, that Delhi is unforgiving and I should be careful. But, today, I understand their concern because I am a single woman in Delhi and I should be angry, but, I am only scared. 

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