The Thomas Reuters Foundation recently surveyed 153 United Nations member nations on women’s safety and protection issues and India was found to be the most dangerous country for women — one with the highest risk of sexual harassment, dangers from cultural, tribal and traditional practices and human trafficking. We lead the list, ranking before even the war zones of Syria and Afghanistan. The survey reflects the nightmarish reality which has become the norm, say women across different age groups, financial brackets, vocations and religions in the capital. Fear and danger is something they have a brush with every day. And feeling unsafe has become second second nature.
“I’m 73 now and I don’t step out of the house after 8 pm. I feel scared going out on the roads in the city. Once my necklace was snatched from my neck by two men on a motorcycle. It was 6 am, the sun was up, I was out for my daily morning walk with some other ladies. This incident shook me up so much that it took me three weeks to get back to my regular routine,” said Rekha, a resident of North Delhi.
Not far from her home, we reached out to a young student studying in Delhi University’s North Campus. Greeshma Chauhan, a 19-year-old philosophy student, expressed, “Even the daily commute is fraught with anxiety. Boarding the women’s compartment everyday for college isn’t a choice but a need. Rushing towards the women’s coach even when I’m getting late drives home the fact that the female passengers need to be segregated from the rest of the commuters to ensure their safety. So segregation has become the solution instead of safety being ensured in a space inhabited by both genders.”
Safety issues in our country are faced by women of all age and class groups, and are manifested in different ways, posing various challenges. Shama Sikander, the 36-year-old Bollywood actress, says, “I don’t know what happened in the past few years. Before this one never heard of so many rape cases. We need to bring a change in the mindsets not just of the perpetrators but also the women. Women need to be brave, and give it back. And the rape survivors should not think any less of themselves. It has a lot to do with the mind and not body. People have subconsciously fed it in young boys’ minds that it’s okay to torture and dominate a girl. We need to explain to them what to do with the energy that comes with being a teenager or a young adult. Children are brave and intelligent and it’s high time we talked about these things consciously.”
While the message of being bold and strong is one that needs to be instilled in girls, Tina (name changed on request), a resident of South Delhi, shares that dangers and unease follow girls each step of their way in Delhi. “Our society and culture is getting more westernised, but ironically, walking alone on the road wearing shorts often results in people touching your legs and speeding away on their motorbikes. This happened to me in the middle of the day in South Ex I. A few days after that, my friend was groped in the middle of the road in North Delhi. Sadly, passers-by choose to stay mute spectators or else shoot videos just to have something new to circulate on their social platforms. Now, every time I’m on the road I feel extremely vulnerable.”
Edith Dawa, preparing for her Civil Services exam, believes that just being bold, strong and alert won’t help women be safe in a city like Delhi. “Finding an accommodation of one’s choice in a safe locality too is tough for single women. House-hunting is an ordeal since people are reluctant to rent out apartments to single women. I am from Ladakh and have to face a strong regional bias too. Whenever I go to the broker in search of a room, I am harassed with numerous personal questions.”
The stories and every day realities of women who live next to us, who serve us, who are us are filled with fear and anxieties. These were not all the incidents we heard of when we asked the right questions, and these will never be the only incidents either if we don’t decide to strive towards making our country safe for women.