Posts Tagged ‘Delhi gang-rape

Two Sundays back, precisely on December 16, I had barely started my evening walk in a neighbourhood park when the street lights went off. At half past eight in any winter evening in Delhi, parks are usually deserted. As the lights went off, I realised that I am left in the company of four strangers – a middle-aged male walker and a group of three young footballers.

As I conitnued to walk, I started having premonitions. “What if this man molests me, will these young boys be of any help?” “What if these boys join him in and all four gang-rape me?” “Will people from the neighbourhood come to my rescue?” “Will I be mentally strong enough to report to the police?” .

But I didn’t let these thoughts occupy my mind for long and continued to walk for next one hour.

Next morning, the news channels were flooded with the story of a 23-year old woman who was gang raped by six men in a bus around nine in the evening. She and her accompanying male friend were brutally beaten up with iron rods, and were thrown off the bus.

So, a rape did happen in my city the previous evening when I was thinking what if I get raped. The only consolation was that it was not my turn that day. But like other women in this city, I too was reminded, all over again, that Delhi isn’t safe for us.

After staying in this city for over eight years, incidents of rape don’t really surprise me anymore. But there was something about this incident. In no time, this news travelled like wildfire.People started demanding the arrest and faster conviction of these six men. There was widespread condemnation of the incident followed by nationwide protests demanding safety of women. Meanwhile the girl continued to battle for her life in Safdarjung hospital.

I couldn’t take my mind off this incident either. It was not just a story for me but it had started having an insidious effect on me.

The fear of getting raped grew more and more in me. I started imposing restrictions on my mobility. On my sister’s advice, not only I stopped taking a bus or a metro to work but I had also stopped driving late. I had stopped my evening walks. I had stopped meeting my friends late in the evening. I had stopped going for evening shows even at a nearby cinema hall, which is barely 300 meters away from my house. I must confess that these restraints had terrorised me internally. I was slowing becoming fearful and timid. I was turning into a coward, which I never was, I never wanted to be.

I came to Delhi in 2004 and like any other woman in the city, I too had my share of unpleasant experiences.

Travelling in Delhi buses was never a pleasure. I still vividly remember my horrifying experiences of travelling in  bus route number 883. On my way back from office at ITO, I used to take any Blue Line bus from ITO to Kashmere Gate and then take another connecting Blue Line of route number 883 from Kashmere Gate to North Campus, mostly post 9.30 pm, after work. There had been instances when male passengers ogled me – the only female passenger on-board. Often in crowded buses, men have tried to touch and grope. When I had asked them to move off, some silently obeyed but many rebelled and refused to budge with no remorse. Once, I had slapped a man who tried to fondle my breasts while getting off the bus that I was about to board. He was obviously using the wrong gate to de-board.

The anxiety whether I would return home safely or not had always preoccupied my mind. Every day, I told myself, “don’t take risks”  and “don’t invite trouble.” Yes, I was always alert but never a quitter.

But I must say that I had never found suggestions like “keep a knife or a pepper spray” feasible.I am yet not convinced if one can really use them at the perpetrator at the right moment. How is it possible to push the spray button in a crowded bus?By the time, I would have tried to do it, the shameless man would have already de-boarded the bus and hopped on to the other to harass another woman or to look for his next prey.

Recently, Delhi government  decided to deploy home guards in buses from 11 pm to 4am to ensure safety of women passengers. I wonder which girl has the courage to travel in a bus post 10 or 11pm? These home guards should be deployed post 7.30-8pm because the molesters often get active soon after the sun goes down.

But buses are not the only places where women are being eve-teased in this city.Like any other girl in this harsh and hostile city,I too have encountered bikers who would ask, , “chalti hai kya?” or “Hi baby,chal na hai?.” I have always avoided any confrontation with such  cheeky men on streets.

When one night at 11.45pm, I took a rickshaw from Vishwavidyalaya station to my house in Outram Lines, I was followed by a young man who had wanted me to respond to his advances and go with him in his car.I ignored him and had asked the rickshawpuller to speed up. He followed me till the gate of my colony but didn’t dare to go any further.

For the past year and a half, I have been driving. It has certainly minimised my chances of being sexually harassed but that doesn’t mean I am absolutely safe. Often, men have hurled abuses at me because I refused to jump a red light thus blocking their way t o overtake or took a little longer to park my car keeping them waiting in queue. It is a truth universally known that men in Delhi look down upon women drivers. But what had amazed me that many women take pride in their supercilious brothers and boyfriends and husbands who ridicule women drivers by saying, “ladkiyon ko gaadi nahin chalana chahiye”(girls should not drive), “yeh zaroor ladki chala rahi hai” and “yeh zaroor ladki ne park kiya hai. (taunting women for their ‘poor’ driving and parking skills).” I am sure such comments are not made at male drivers, no matter how bad or reckless they are.

But I must say that these unpleasant experiences have made me a fighter. They have made me learn how to survive in this city. Yet, the fear of getting raped hasn’t really gone off my mind.

But this fear is not really Delhi-centric. In fact, there have been times when I had felt intimidated and threatened by autowallahs and taxi drivers in Calcutta. Whenever I had any argument with them over issues of refusal or over-charging, I had feared that they would go violent, drag me into the taxi or auto and rape me just to show how powerful they are.

But the question is not about Delhi or Calcutta. As a woman, I don’t I feel safe anywhere in my own country.

For my work, I often travel to the obscure places of the country. Three years back, when I was in Bastar, I had to travel from Dantewada town to Sukma as a pillion rider with a local. It was a 10-hour journey both ways through the dense jungles. As the evening inched closer, I feared that the security forces especially the CRPF known to harass tribal women of the Maoist belt may be on the prowl. But thankfully, nothing unfortunate had happened and I came back to Dantewada town safely.

After Bastar, I have travelled to many other far flung areas like Churachandpur in Manipur, Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, Narayanpatna in Odisha, Kokrajhar in Assam  etc for reporting. But I have never travelled alone to these places. What has travelled with me is my fear – my fear of getting raped.

But something changed this Saturday morning, December 29. At 4.30 am, I was informed by a reporter friend that the 23-year- old- girl had passed away .Government had claimed that they had shifted her to a Singapore hospital for better treatment. Not that any of us was expecting any miracle but the news of her death forced me to pause and introspect my own apprehensions related to rape.

It is not rape that caused her death. She died because her attackers had damaged her intestines. If she would have recovered from her physical injuries, I strongly believe, she would have lived a normal life (or at least, would have tried to do so despite the society victimising her). She would have sent a strong message to those six men who wanted to “teach her a lesson”. She would have emerged out to be a fighter. She would have certainly proved BJP leader Sushma Swaraj wrong, who said rape victims are no less than “zinda laash”(living dead).

On Saturday, I also realised that my self-imposed curfew won’t really save me from any evil. Anything unexpected can happen anytime .A bomb blast can maim me. I may be detected with any terminal disease. Will the trauma or pain in these cases be any less than rape? Why can’t I treat rape just as a contusion, which has to heal with time? I understood, the healing would be faster if I turn all the more stronger mentally.

Of course, rape is one of the most heinous crimes but why should I believe rape is the end of life? Even though I strongly believe that rapists should get the harshest punishment(I consider imprisonment for entire life, and not 14 years, is the most harsh punishment. I don’t think death penalty will act as a deterrent), but why would I kill my peace of mind because there are perverts on the prowl? The fight against the rapist would be fearless for a survivor if she is mentally strong enough to think positive and move on.

So before I call for a change in the patriarchal mindset of men, who rape women because they think that it is the best way to  teach them a lesson or overpower them, I need to change my own thinking. I need to break free from the shackles of this constant fear of getting raped.

The process has slowly begun.I am not scared to drive late anymore. I would soon go for an evening show in the nearby theatre.  I have resumed my evening walks too. I, no more, live with the fear that it could be my turn today.

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Neha Taneja does not want to step out of her house. For almost a week, the 21-year-old Delhi student has stayed home, not willing to go to a pub or a movie. “I fear that if I go out, it will be my turn to get raped,” she says.

 Taneja’s concerns are real. Last Sunday’s incident of a brutal rape and assault have instilled a sense of fear in the minds of Delhi women. Six men raped a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus, beat her and her male friend with iron rods, and then threw them off the bus.

Spread over 1,482 square kilometres, Delhi — famous for its historical monuments, broad roads and butter chicken — is now being seen as a city that has no place for women. Not surprisingly, the media have started calling it the rape capital of India.

Statistics corroborate the fact that Delhi is unsafe for women. This year so far, 661 rape cases were reported in the city, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures. Last year, there were 572 reported rape cases — far higher than such incidents in Mumbai (221), Bangalore (97), Chennai (76) and Calcutta (46). According to government data, rapes per lakh population are higher in Delhi than in any of the metros. Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh has the highest rate (7.3) in the country, but experts say because the city is a small town with a smaller population than Delhi’s, the number of rapes in Delhi far exceeds those in the MP town.

“There has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of complaints related to sexual assault that we have received over the past two years,” says Nilanju Dutta, manager, violence intervention team, Jagori, a Delhi-based women’s organisation.

What makes Delhi so unsafe?

A combination of factors, say experts — the ever-expanding city has low police vigil and an ever growing migrant population. “The city is being stretched from every corner. It is not possible to set up police stations near every new colony,” says a senior Delhi police official.

The porous borders that the city shares with states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also make it unsafe. “Many crimes are committed by migrant drivers coming from neighbouring states who get drunk and harass women,” says the police official.

But the blame cannot be blindly put on migrant workers because the city’s rich have a criminal record too. “A group of neo-rich has come up in the city. They have money but little education. Often, being intimidated by the English-speaking crowd, they pick up fights in pubs and nightclubs and vent their frustration by sexually assaulting women,” says the officer. And there are enough cases of rapes being committed by the powerful and affluent.

The city — with its vast fleet of vehicles (7.2 million, exceeding the combined vehicle population of Chennai, Calcutta, Lucknow and Mumbai) — is difficult to manage. Rapes are often conducted in moving vehicles.  In 2005, a student from Mizoram was gang-raped in a moving car in Dhaula Kuan and also in 2010, a 30-year old BPO employee from the north-east.was also gang-raped in a moving car. “But it is not always possible to keep a check on every vehicle,” says Dharmendra Kumar, commissioner, Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order).

 Home to over 1.67 crore people, the city has also come up over the years as the workplace of diverse communities. In that sense, it’s unlike other cities which invoke a sense of regional pride. “There are many cities living together in Delhi without integrating with one another,” says social commentator Santosh Desai. “There is no sense of belonging. It is a users’ city where people come only for work opportunities with a strong sense of detachment,” feels Desai.

This detachment is often reflected on the streets, says criminal psychiatrist Rajat Mitra. “Women fight a lonely battle against harassment because Delhiites are mostly mute spectators,” he says.

The city has long stretches of lonely roads where the security cover is not adequate. One policeman is in charge of the security of 400 citizens and one public call response (PCR) van handles law and order over a 10-kilometre stretch.

“Further, the body language of policemen doesn’t generate confidence in women. The police also often refuse to lodge complaints of sexual assault,” says National Commission for Women chairperson Mamata Sharma.

There are others who believe the issue goes beyond the police. They say, the problem lies with the people of the city.

“The problem is with the patriarchal mindset of the people of north India. Also, traditionally, they lack sense of civility. They need to change their attitude towards women,” feels former additional commissioner of police Gautam Kaul.

Even though Kaul says that he is not stereotyping men of north India but he adds, “North Indian men don’t want women to be on par with them.Also, they cannot take rejection from women.”

In fact, in the recent rape case too, the accused driver Ram Singh raped the girl to teach her a lesson because she protested when Singh taunted her for being out so late with her male friend.

“Some men think that women are their property. They think they are entitled to sex and thereby control female sexuality at their will,” adds Supreme Court advocate Aarthi Rajan.

Some say that north Indian men are habituated to see docile women at home and therefore they expect similar behaviour from women on roads. “Women in north Indian households traditionally don’t protest. So men get aggressive and revengeful when a woman protests,” thinks Calcutta-based psychiatrist Dr Jai Ranjan Ram. He adds, “This is not a situation in a city like Calcutta or Mumbai.”

But the cops also say that these incidents get media coverage because they are occurring in the country’s capital. “Incidents like these happen in every city,” says the senior police official.

Kumar adds that Delhi’s track record is better than that of other cities. “The incidence of rape per lakh population is 52.8 in London and 10.6 in New York whereas it is 4.07 in Delhi.” Others, however, point out that rape has a wider definition in the West, where cases are also reported more often and taken more seriously.

But Kaul stresses that such incidents can be curbed if the law and order is improved. “Our past experience says that those who go scot free by doing petty crimes often get involved in ghastly acts like rape. The accused in this case too had a criminal background,” says Kaul.

Delhi is a city where people from across the country converge. But with increasing lack of security, not many would repeat the words made memorable by the 19th century poet Zauq: “Who could bear to leave behind the alleys of Delhi.” Who, a 21st century poet would write, would want to walk down dark alleys?