A woman was assaulted and gang raped in an empty bus in Delhi and was thrown out of it. Right now she is critical, surviving with the help of a ventilator - fighting for her life.
She was paramedical student who just planned to watch a movie with a friend. Her story is not a solitary incident. I really wish it was. I really wish.
One year ago when I was with my entire family at KFC, Select City Walk, Delhi, a man came up to me, knowing full well that my parents were around, and told me he wanted to squeeze my breasts. I reacted. I screamed. I asked him if he said that to me because he believed he was going to get away with it. He couldn't speak. He was taken aback and he left. When I walked back to my parents, my beautiful independent mother looked like she was going to cry. I told her - "don't worry I dealt with it”. And what she said to me made me realize what facade women, in India, live in. My mother told me - "You should have ignored him. What if he comes back with other men to hurt you?” My mother was convinced that it was possible for men to attack me in a packed KFC in Select City Walk and get away with it. My father who believed I did the right thing still added "Try not confronting when you are alone." I felt disillusioned. Suddenly, the fact that I was independent, had a comfortable salary, worked in advertising - all felt worthless. After all how could I be independent if I could not stand up for my rights? Stand up to defend my dignity? How was I any different from the girl in Haryana who did not have the right to education? Sure I was literate and I knew my rights but I wasn't allowed to act upon my knowledge - apparently for my own safety. So then, what good was this knowledge?
I left Delhi soon after. Citing many reasons – “I want to study further”, “I need to learn to stay on my own” and “Mumbai has the kind of weather I love”. But I knew the real reason was my search for true independence; the independence to walk on the street without constantly looking over my shoulder. I did not want to feel my pulse racing every time I had to take an auto rickshaw after sunset. I just wanted to breathe.
Mumbai has its own set of issues. Compared to Delhi, I honestly feel more equipped to deal with the issues Mumbai presents. Yes, most landlords look at you very suspiciously when you say 'I work in advertising'. Some are bold enough to ask and make sure that you do not indulge in prostitution on the side. They worry and at times downright refuse to give you a house because you are single woman and plan to live on your own. (One landlord told me he would call my Dad if he finds me getting boys over - so much for being seen as a strong independent woman.) But still those irritants I could actually deal with. Those I could pass off as a generation issue because all said and done, none of those landlords who I met alone ever tried to make a pass at me or make me uncomfortable. They respected my space. I know it is funny that I feel thankful for something that should have been the norm. But I know it isn't. Not in this country. Not for women. So yes, I am thankful.
When I moved to Mumbai, if anyone stereotyped Delhi men, I felt bad because I had so many friends who were brought up in Delhi and I knew that they would never ever hurt a woman. Yes, some of them are loud and some, a little impulsive but they would never cross the line. I eventually came to realize, after I went back to Delhi, after I felt the same paranoia as I had felt before, that these men were not the majority. I met them at Morrison's and Hauz Khas Village. I met them in advertising circles. But they were not the majority, unfortunately. The 'real' men of Delhi were the ones who stared at me when I walked alone. And women know the difference between stares that say -'oh she is pretty' and the ones that scream - 'How can she?' 'She must be a slut. Which girl from a good family stays out after eight?'
I actually feel stupid for ever defending Delhi, a city that just does not want to learn from its mistakes. My arguments mean nothing anymore and the stories of crimes against women sound like songs from the same record. An entire city lives completely desensitized. How many more assaults and rapes will it take for a city to wake up and understand that it needs a change. Or will everyone keep saying 'It is Delhi, you know...'
History and even current events show that when people come together, lasting examples of change can be created. Yet, it seems to me that the issues that plague the women of this country are not on anyone’s priority list. Women who work towards highlighting such issues are branded as crazy feminists. NO. They are not crazy. They are independent women working to create an environment where they and other women won’t have to constantly fight and justify their independence or their choices. Where they won’t have to live in a city so desensitized that it refuses to change or create a safe environment for its women.
Delhi, this country, its leaders, even prominent media personalities, will now sit back and spit out jargon and statistics telling us yet again how many rapes and assault cases happen every day in Delhi and in the country. They will shut clubs and restaurants. Set a curfew for the women. Stop us from going out after dark while the men roam the streets. Limit our growth and our dreams.
After all we don’t matter then how can our dreams and our ambitions matter?
As I mentioned earlier, I left Delhi and at that time I couldn’t exactly figure out why. I didn’t have the energy to combat a city that did not even acknowledge that I deserved respect. I left. I should have fought back. I didn't know how. There are many like me, young and trying to figure out a way to fight back. But soon they will run out of steam as well. And leave.