Find out how the women in India feel about their safety…

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‘The feeling of helplessness and shame forced me to avoid travelling by bus’

Sanchita Chaudhary | 26 | Blogger bengaluru
Sanchita Chaudhary | 26 | Blogger, Bengaluru

Whenever a new rape case comes to light, it is strange how the lives of single women get jeopardised. Though life in the city pushes you to be normal, yet somewhere inside you just cannot stop panicking. What is more terrifying is the way people react to rapes; like it was just another incident that keeps happening at regular intervals and there is absolutely nothing to worry about.

But it is not just another incident that can be brushed aside. Every rape case makes women more vulnerable. It is especially true for those who stay alone in cities, far away from their loved ones.

I still remember the day in 2007, when I had to choose a city for higher studies. Like every arts student, my first preference was New Delhi. But as soon as I discussed it with my parents, their first reaction was “anywhere but Delhi”. Needless to say, I was disappointed and had to opt for Bengaluru instead (a safer option in my parents’ opinion). For many years, I regretted my decision. But the heinous gangrape of 16 December 2012 made me see the point that my parents had made a few years ago.

It did not take that particular rape case to bring to light what most women had been silently suffering for all these years. It just made us see the reason why we need to speak up against what is wrong in this country.

Being a woman is already a difficult part, but when you have eyes scanning you everywhere you go or hands waiting to reach out to your body, it becomes all the more terrifying.

Though Bengaluru is considered a “safer” city than other metros, life for a single woman here is not quite different from that in other cities. Getting groped in public transport, being abused by autorickshaw drivers and those x-ray stares at your bosom don’t really make your life comfortable or easy.

Last week, I was going back home in the evening after meeting a friend. Buses are usually overcrowded in the evenings and it is difficult to get a seat with the people rushing in to get a foothold. But I was kind of lucky to have managed a seat by the aisle. As the bus lurched forward, more people rushed in and the men had to move to the women’s section to accommodate them. Suddenly I felt something rubbing against my arm. When I turned, to my horror, I saw an old man, about 50 years old, rubbing his manhood against my arm.

For a moment, I could not comprehend what was going on. Then, in a sudden surge of anger, I pushed the man aside and started shouting at him. He pretended to be innocent and started abusing back in Kannada. The most painful part was that the people stood there watching the show without uttering a word. I got off the bus after a few minutes.

This incident was nothing compared to the atrocities faced by women every day. But it was happening to me and I could not do anything about it. The feeling of helplessness and shame forced me to avoid travelling by bus, especially in crowded ones. But is the solution so simple? Not really.

A similar incident took place while my friend was travelling in an autorickshaw. Auto drivers in Bengaluru are known to be notorious. But this incident just left me speechless. My friend was travelling to her aunt’s house, which is about 20 km away and located in a deserted area. After boarding the vehicle, she found out that the auto driver kept staring at her through his mirror. She got uncomfortable and covered herself all over with a dupatta and waited for her destination to arrive. After going half the way, she could not take it anymore and asked the driver to stop. He reluctantly obliged.

When she gave him the fare, he complained that he did not have change. When she asked him to get the change, he got angry and started abusing her. She could not keep a lid on her anger and lashed out at him. Suddenly, the driver grabbed her by the hair and told her that women should know their limits and if they don’t, they will get raped. Luckily, a few passers-by came to her rescue and handed over the driver to the police.

She was lucky, but that is not the case with every woman. These incidents scar you forever. At some point, you start hating yourself and your body. Every day, while stepping out of the house, I pray for my safe return in the evening. As a working woman, it is a continuous battle every day. However, this battle is of the silent kind.

Here I am, battling the eyes boring into my clothes, the hands reaching out to touch my body at the slightest provocation, the hungry remarks of the male gender about my clothes, my style and every visible part of my body.

And most importantly, I am battling myself every day, from falling apart due to the voice inside me that keeps saying… “you could be next”.


 

‘A woman cannot afford to let down her guard even for a minute’

Ravneet Gill Singh | 36 | Creative Director Chandigarh
Ravneet Gill Singh | 36 | Creative Director,
Chandigarh

Chandigarh might be unique in India in the sense that it is one of the very few cities to have been planned, but the mentality that prevails here is very much in sync with the rest of the country when it comes to women’s safety. The question itself is largely ignored.

While walking the pristine criss-cross patterned streets of Chandigarh, one is used to the ogles, the stares and the sly low-voiced comments in chaste Punjabi. One dismisses these as the inevitable penalty a woman, regardless of her dress, looks or age, has to face the minute she steps out of her home.

For the ‘great Indian masculine gender’, it is not considered rude, insensitive or offensive at all to stare, pass lewd comments or act like an irritant. Rather, they consider it their birthright to be able to pass judgement on any female who happens to be going about her life.

In the glare of the sun, with the pristine Chandigarh roads, with their famed dense trees swaying in the wintry breeze, the stares and comments can be ignored. After all, it is impossible to pick up an issue with the majority of the men one encounters on the street, so like all (yes, all) Indian women, one learns to live with these from an early age.

Chandigarh might be unique in India in the sense that it is one of the very few cities to have been planned, but the mentality that prevails here is very much in sync with the rest of the country when it comes to women’s safety. The question itself is largely ignored.

While walking the pristine criss-cross patterned streets of Chandigarh, one is used to the ogles, the stares and the sly low-voiced comments in chaste Punjabi. One dismisses these as the inevitable penalty a woman, regardless of her dress, looks or age, has to face the minute she steps out of her home.

For the ‘great Indian masculine gender’, it is not considered rude, insensitive or offensive at all to stare, pass lewd comments or act like an irritant. Rather, they consider it their birthright to be able to pass judgement on any female who happens to be going about her life.

In the glare of the sun, with the pristine Chandigarh roads, with their famed dense trees swaying in the wintry breeze, the stares and comments can be ignored. After all, it is impossible to pick up an issue with the majority of the men one encounters on the street, so like all (yes, all) Indian women, one learns to live with these from an early age.


‘To feel constantly threatened about your safety purely because of your gender is quite degrading’

Hanupriya Mohan Saini | 34 | Freelance voice trainer Kolkata
Hanupriya Mohan Saini | 34 | Freelance voice trainer, Kolkata

I have lived in almost all parts of India and am rather dismayed to say that this country is perhaps consistent in its cruelty, apathy and accusation towards womankind. I will concede that the degree varies but disrespect and objectification are consistent themes.

I lived in New Delhi and Gurgaon for 12 years before moving to Kolkata in 2013.

And you know how things are in New Delhi. The simple rule for some men is: if you get the opportunity to grope, you must; if you get the opportunity to make obscene comments or gestures, you definitely must.

I have been subjected to innumerable stabs to my self-esteem, my mistaken sense of freedom and my non-existent rights as promised by the Constitution.

I came to Kolkata with a lot of expectations. From what I heard of the place in terms of the so-called learned people, and how liberal the society is, I expected it to be a little like Mumbai. For me, Mumbai was the only relatively safe place in terms of women being on their own (especially when Bal Thackeray was at the helm).

About a month after moving to Kolkata, I remember having a conversation with my husband. I told him how threatened I felt because of the way people check you out. In most places, people ogle, but they tend to look away if caught. But here, I felt a lot of aggression. Almost a sense of entitlement because of their gender. And the amazing statistics reported in The Times of India, which put West Bengal only after Madhya Pradesh in terms of the number of rapes.

It is painful to admit, but I have taken up self-defence classes given the state of affairs in the country.

It may be a sensible thing to do but to feel constantly threatened about your safety purely because of your gender is quite degrading. And one cannot expect any help from people. That is a given. We have proved it again and again.


‘There is not a single spot left in the country where women feel safe’

Murchana Choudhury Dutta | 28 | Teacher Mumbai
Murchana Choudhury Dutta | 28 | Teacher, Mumbai

Education is an important factor that brings many students to metropolitan cities. I too left my hometown to pursue higher education in the sophisticated city of Mumbai.

Initially, I was happy to discover freedom and live my life on my own. As I shuttled from my hostel to college, things looked alright. As the days passed and I got familiar with the area, I realised that certain things were not okay. My new-found freedom was soon to turn into my life’s greatest misery.

For instance, there was this man who frequented the girls’ hostel with his face covered and body unclad. He would scream out in filthy language and invite the girls to have some fun time with him.

In order to cover short distances, we generally preferred taking autorickshaws. Travelling alone was not an easy task. I remember how auto drivers passed inappropriate comments and sang filthy songs when the girls were travelling alone. However, the scene would be different if we had a male friend accompanying us.

I got so irritated that I decided to travel by bus. But did that solve my problem? No. In fact, I discovered yet another dimension of the gender abuse. Women travelling by bus were constant targets of lewd comments and groping by both conductors and male passengers. Public transport was by no means safe. Walking seemed to be the only option left.

So, to save myself from the misery of being groped or being the target of inappropriate comments, I had to give up on the luxury of travelling by public transport and walk instead. But this is not the solution to the harassment that we face every day.

I am sure that women who live alone in other metros also share the same or rather more horrible experiences. We women usually resort to avoiding things that embarrass us or hurt our dignity. It is because of the fact that we don’t get any support when something goes wrong. If a woman gets raped, the whole society, including her parents, abandon her as if it was her fault. That is why we never find the courage to speak up and protest against these criminals.

Pick up the Indian map and choose any spot — there is not a single corner left where we women feel safe. It has been rightly stated that the onus is on mothers to educate their sons on how to treat women. But isn’t it the duty of the fathers too to teach their children about how to treat the female gender? The questions linger and the blame game will go on but the solutions are nowhere in sight.


‘The Centre must start a Safe Bharat campaign and clear the streets of perverted men’

Jane Moses | 21 MBA student, VIT University Vellore
Jane Moses | 21 | MBA student, VIT University
Vellore

Every time a woman walks through a dark alleyway, she fears not ferocious dogs coming after her but ogling men lurking in the darkness, ready to attack any moment. Every woman in India has been a victim of eve-teasing or roadside abuse at least once. It does not matter whether the woman is rich, poor, tall, short, dark, fair, young, old, skinny or curvy, abuse knows no boundary.

Travelling alone in public transport has become a menace even in big cities. Crowded buses are a good excuse for men to ‘innocently’ press themselves against women. Autorickshaw rides are even more frightening with the drivers shamelessly adjusting their mirrors to get a better view of their female customers. And let’s not get started about local trains.

The worst part is the trauma that women undergo as a result of these atrocities, however big or small they may be. These incidents leave a scar.

I still remember the first time I walked alone through the streets of Chennai. I got a lot of unwanted attention from every other random man on the road. I felt cheap and just couldn’t wait to get back to my hostel. No matter how independent you are, you feel helpless in situations like these. Fear grips you and you wonder if you did something wrong. This is the plight of every woman in India.

Ironically, in all these situations, the society blames the woman herself — she shouldn’t have worn that; she was asking for trouble; who asked her to stay out so late at night; look at the number of male friends she has; such a loose character, etc. It is always the woman who provokes poor innocent men to do unspeakable things. The men are always considered blameless.

We are not asking for it. Just because we have a lot of male friends doesn’t mean that we are “that type” of girl. We wear what we want because we like it and are comfortable in it. That does not give you permission to touch us. And mind you, a saree that is supposedly decent and cultured is way more seductive than most of the so-called western clothes that we wear.

Asking women to carry pocket knives and pepper spray to protect themselves is another way of equating these men to untamed wild animals. Such a brutally apt comparison.

In most residential colleges, the curfew for female hostellers is three-four hours earlier that of their male counterparts. Why can’t India assure women a society where they can walk freely about the streets even at 1 am without any fear of being molested, eve-teased or raped?

We were all excited when the government initiated the Swachh Bharat campaign, where we picked up brooms to clean up the streets. It was a huge success. Why can’t the government focus on a Safe Bharat campaign and clear the streets of the perverted men who seem to believe that they are invincible, and show them where they actually belong? Only then can we proudly profess that we have done away with the dirt on the streets.

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