I still remember partying on Dec 16 last year, unaware of the horrors a fellow city mate was facing. I did not know her, yet I did. She was as much a part of the city I have called home for the last 26 years as I am. After all it was her story, her fight that made me aware of the repressive society I am living in. And one year down the line, not much has changed.
Until Dec 16, 2012, I paid scant attention to my mother’s advice on safety thinking I am a grown up girl and can manage on my own. Taking auto-rickshaws and driving late were part of the routine, owing to the nature of my work.
But that one incident instilled a deep and perhaps a life-long fear in me.
The gruesome incident brought all of us out of our homes to stake claim to our rights, our safety. No amount of water cannons and batons could shake our determination or water down our demand for a safer society and stringent anti-rape laws.
But one year after the incident, which happened at the exact spot I used to board a bus from not long ago, it looks like the first flush of anger is dying down.
Not long ago, on a rainy September evening I set out in an auto-rickshaw to have dinner with friends. And soon enough the auto broke down after it went through a deep puddle of water. Though the driver assured me that it was a minor fault and he would soon set it right what had happened to the 23-year-old physiotherapist came back to haunt me.
The auto started but kept stopping and I repeatedly kept asking the driver to take a U-turn and drop me to the nearest metro station. But he was determined to either ‘drop me at my destination’ or ‘I was free to get off in the middle of a deserted road’.
With no other option, the mobile low on battery, and no one to call for help on the deserted road, I could only pray I reached my friends safely. With my fingers crossed throughout, I noticed the absence of police patrols and how poorly lit the 5 km stretch next to Delhi’s swanky airport was.
The journey passed without any “incident” – thankfully.
A friend later told me of the harrowing time she had last Christmas eve while returning home as the city was witnessing angry protests. As many metro stations in the heart of the city were closed for security reasons, she managed to get an auto only after paying a hefty amount. But the auto driver dropped her mid-way on a desolate road. Pleading and even promises of more money did not help.
As there was not a soul on the road, my friend walked alone for kilometers – with a prayer on her lips. She could have become another case even as the world was protesting elsewhere. She said later that she was “just plain lucky.”
Another friend, travelling in a metro around 10 p.m., had to shield herself from mobile phone cameras zooming in on her face and bosom while another girl in a Najafgarh-bound bus was forced to stick a pin into a man trying to rub himself against her.
And yet another was forced to drive at reckless speed when two men tried to force themselves into her car outside a popular shopping mall. “Only I know how I managed to escape,” is what she said later, scared to death by the experience.
A short walk to the metro station from the office is no cakewalk. Randy remarks, vulgar songs are what greet you on the way. Taking a rickshaw home from the station after 8 p.m. is no less a nightmare either.
I see lustful eyes, lecherous body language and hear lewd remarks.
Where have the promises of a safe society gone? No more can I hear the siren of patrolling vans (only past midnight); neither can I see increased police presence on the roads, nor are the streetlights lit well enough for a woman to walk even the shortest possible distance without being turned into a sex object.
Despite security personnel present inside metro stations, not a single one steps out to ensure that women are not being harassed by rickshaw pullers who are busy smoking and drinking outside the stations.
A mother of a teenager recently told me how she has asked her daughter to dress ‘appropriately’ even if she is in a group. ‘You never know who is watching you and what might happen. Your safety is in your hands. Do not invite trouble’, is what the daughter was told.
I refuse to rely on mobile phone applications and pepper sprays for my safety. What I demand is an enlightened mindset with an equally educated social attitude.
Yes, the wait has been excruciatingly long, but I have not lost hope. I still wait for the day when women can walk the roads, wearing whatever they wish, freely and confidently.
- Shweta Sharma is a correspondent of Indo-Asian News Service. The views expressed are personal.