‘In Delhi, women who work late sometimes have to pay with their lives’

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|Unsafe in the capital|

Vani Tripathi  is 30. She is the National Secretary of the BJP youth wing

Illustration:  Anand Naorem

SOME OF THE most productive years of my life have been marred by frightening experiences. This despite the fact that the context of my work has been profound. What does a theatre actor who finishes rehearsals at 10 pm do? Women, who work late hours, will immediately understand that I’m referring to the fear they experience night after night, to that need to protect themselves from being molested or raped or killed. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the beautiful city of Delhi, the country’s capital, is schizoid in its existence and completely diabolic in its essence. Here, women whose work hours stretch beyond the usual 9 to 5 grind occasionally have to pay for their schedules with their lives.

I was confronted with this truth on a recent cold winter night. My new Chekhov play was set to open the following day. As normally happens, the grand rehearsal extended late into the night. After the final wrap, I decided to take a cab back home from the cultural haven of Delhi’s Mandi House, one of the city’s renowned theatres. The sleepy cab driver didn’t seem interested in driving me home but had to agree when two of my male colleagues, who would have found it equally difficult to get back home, jumped in too.

Everything seemed okay until a white Maruti van decided to overtake us on an empty stretch and then stopped right in front of us. One of my companions, an actor, asked the visibly drunk young men in the van what they wanted. They pretended to be looking for an obscure address. Also pretending, my friend directed them towards the fictitious address. We set off again. This time, though, I angrily asked the cabbie to drive faster. At the corner of Connaught Place, I noticed that the Maruti van still seemed to be chasing us.

By this time, I was extremely uncomfortable. I spotted a police Gypsy standing at the head of Panchkuian Road and approached it. A senior police inspector in the Gypsy heard us out. He stopped the van and spoke to the men in it as we looked on from inside our cab. After a couple of minutes, he came back looking slightly worried and insisted that we leave immediately as he had to talk to the men in the van some more. Though I found something strange about the policeman’s manner, we went on our way.

When I got to west Delhi where I lived, I could sense flash lights in the distance behind me, but they seemed far away and, besides, I was too tired to pay attention anymore.

The next morning was full of excitement and I reached the auditorium early as I had plenty to do before I got into the star-of-the-show mode. Suddenly, the manager came in and enquired about the person who had hired a cab from outside the auditorium the previous night. When I said that I had, he asked me to step out into the foyer, where I met a young police officer. Once more I clarified that I had indeed hired the taxi. He then asked if I was the one who had stopped at Connaught Place and approached the senior police inspector in the Gypsy. When my answer to that too was in the affirmative, he took out a rolled up sheet of paper from his pocket and unfurled it like an old janam kundali.

Everything seemed okay until a Maruti van overtook us on an empty stretch and then stopped right in front

The Maruti van, which had chased us, had been found to be carrying 57 pieces of ammunition in its boot and country made pistols, hockey sticks, chains, revolvers… the list went on. My jaw dropped and in a flash I recalled the strange expression on the senior police inspector’s face. The ground beneath my feet seemed to take on a gelatine-like consistency and I felt the big blob in my throat jump out like a frog. I accompanied the young officer to the police station to lodge a written complaint about the incident. Today, when I look back, I can’t help wondering if Soumya Vishwanathan could have been around to tell her tale as I have done if she too had found a police vehicle at the corner of the road on the dreadful night that she died. God only knows!

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