- Delhi can be very cruel to women, especially single ones, says Medha Chaturvedi.
I am a single woman in Delhi and I am scared and I am afraid. I am very, very scared – for my life, for my dignity, for my reputation but above all for my safety.
I am what the gossipy aunties of the city contemptuously refer to as “modern-types”: I live with flatmates, not with my parents, and I go out with friends. Many of my friends are men; I wear pants and dresses.
I come home late after late-night movies, and go out for dinners. I have nobody who stays up to make sure I get home safe so it could happen that, one day, the fruits of this “modernity” could prove bitter for me.
Delhi can be very cruel to women, especially single ones. You get used to the constant staring and to the unwanted comments. You almost get used to the occasional incident of groping and molestation. You also get used to every man, woman or politician – pretty much anyone with a mouth –giving you advice on what to wear, who to speak to, and which words to choose – all for the sake of your safety.
In the summer, I should be free to wear skirts if I want to. No one should tell me otherwise.
Yet I constantly hear unsolicited advice from unconnected neighbors and colleagues who tell me that, if I don’t dress or carry myself a certain way, I am inviting and provoking an attack on myself. The implication of this logic feeds the stigma attached to single women in Delhi.
Last month, while I was house hunting, I asked the real estate agent how safe the neighborhood was. He said: “It is a very safe area, there have been only one or two incidents and that, too on the approach road, nothing inside the colony.” One incident is an incident too many. He suggested I should take self-defense classes and thought the local government take it upon itself to arm all women. I smiled. Women don’t want to be armed, they just want to be safe. I didn’t move to that house. I upped my budget and continued my search until I found a house in a gated community that I could afford.
People warn me against eye contact with men I don’t know. Yet I rarely hear anyone preaching to men about self-control, which – by the way – is one of the things that sets us apart from animals.
I am fairly sure that if I were molested or raped there will be those who say: “She was asking for it.” They may recall that I was wearing a skirt at the time, or that perhaps I was in a bar.
What scares me most about the latest, horrific, rape case in Delhi is that the young woman was raped and tortured for 45 minutes by several men, not just one, and none of them seemed to worry that what they were doing was wrong.
When Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit suggested setting up fast-track courts to ensure speedy justice in rape cases, calling the recent gang-rape a “shockingly extraordinary case”, I shuddered.
As a former journalist, I covered many such cases. I learnt that most rapists are people the victims know. I also learned that women should not talk to strangers, as that could provoke unwanted attention. I learnt that public transportation or autos should be avoided at night.
The conclusion is untenable: to be safe, women should avoid any interaction with known or unknown people, and avoid most forms of transportation after dark. Traveling with a male friend may not help: in the latest case, the friend was also assaulted.
I used to resent my parents for telling me not to go out till late, that Delhi is unforgiving and that I should be careful. Today, I understand their concerns. This makes me angry. But as a single woman in Delhi, I am still very scared.