Delhi has become a city of fear.

It's never been known as a safe city. When I first moved here to start college, one of my father's main objections - and he is the most easygoing person I know - was how unsafe it was. I dismissed it obviously.

There were a couple of unsavoury incidents that occurred in my first couple of months here. I was on a rickshaw heading to my aunt's,  and a group of men in a car threw water over me, and called me a randi, before speeding up. It shook me. Nothing like that had ever happened in Calcutta. My uncle darkly told me I was lucky it wasn't acid. Soon after that, I was walking back to my PG - at 3 pm on a very hot, sunny afternoon - and a charming gentleman stepped out of his car, and started masturbating.

I never felt genuinely unsafe though. It's that sense of immortality that comes with youth, that feeling of, oh, this will never happen to me. I can take care of myself.

And so, I'd happily take autos home with just a couple of girlfriends after a night of drinking; myself and Mawii had no concern travelling alone to Majnu ka Tila in the dead of night to procure marijuana, and three years of this, instilled in me a certain confidence.

I was in Calcutta when the rape (and now murder) that we have all been hearing about, and all been talking about, happened. Despite the revulsion and horror, I sensed that perhaps a certain change was occurring. What the streets of Delhi had now, which it didn't before, was anger. Not all of this anger was productive, obviously, but out of it arose a kind of feeling of having had enough. No more merely accepting the fact that Delhi was unsafe, no more sadly shaking heads over the fact that it is called India's rape capital (is it just me, or is that label ridiculous?), no more taking certain precautions to avoid rape.

There was a shift in thought. Don't tell us how not to get raped, tell them not to rape. I saw photos of many men taking part in marches and candlelight vigils and protests. We are not all animals. It opened up many avenues of dialogue, and not just of safety.

Yet, in the midst of this, disturbing things emerged. Recall that comment by our President's son on painted and dented ladies (or was it dented and painted?). No one had a clue what it meant, but however much they laughed at its absurdity, it made clear a conviction many people have: that no matter what, women who get raped have it coming to them.

In a society as patriarchal as ours is, you get the feeling that no matter how much you shout and scream and protest and try to implement changes, nothing real will ever happen, as long as the country's people - not all of them, but more than a few - still believe that women must subscribe to certain established norms of behaviour, and that to break free of those norms leads to the just desserts of these painted and dented, dented and painted, whatever the case may be.

The media coverage made me think that I would return to a Delhi that was seething, a Delhi that had finally woken up to these issues, and was determined to do something about it. More cases were being reported than ever before, as if people were trying to say, okay, she's not the only one that's been raped, there are more out there, this is nowhere close to being over.

But as I said, this is also a city that is afraid. The perils that are out there awaiting women have been sensationalised to such a degree that instead of marching around at night, daring men to try what they will (which in practice isn't a good idea, we will see that in a moment), women are avoiding being out late at night. There was an article in the papers today about how they are all departing office by six regardless of the jibes received from their male colleagues.

What has been created is a vicious cycle. Despite the anger directed towards brutal, savage men, a very real fear has been created, a fear that has always lurked, but never been given such shape and substance. Anger is all very well, but it won't help you when you are walking down a dim lit street at night, in the depths of winter fog, armed with maybe a can of pepper spray that won't do you much good against a gang of potential rapists. Politicians are making noises, the Supreme Court issues profound statements daily on the need to change the country's laws, but none of that will do you any good, will it, when you're walking down that deserted street, your mind full of thoughts fed to you by newspapers and recent events? So to ensure your safety, you control the only thing you can: yourself. You leave work early, you don't take unnecessary risks, you grow timid.

And then, as an interview in the paper pointed out today, men who see women unafraid, walking the streets after dark, start to taunt. Aren't you scared to be out so late? Don't you know what's been happening? Don't you care about your safety? Have you no shame? Once again, the woman is breaking an unbreakable code - her independence, her disregard for the terror that has enveloped the city, implies that she doesn't need to be rescued. And a woman who doesn't need to be rescued, is obviously all things unfeminine, an unnatural creature from the dark.

And of course - more complex issues. What if, as a friend of mine pointed out, Nirbhaya hadn't been from South Delhi, what if she'd been a Dalit girl living on the outskirts? This outrage has occurred because that girl being brutalised on the bus could have been one of us. That sense of immortality has been shattered.

But at least it has been shattered, it's time it was shattered, because perhaps now, we, realising that we can't walk down an empty road in darkness, will create something, out of our anger and despite our fear - something that finally annihilates a mindset that is centuries old.

What that something could be, I don't pretend to know.


Anonymous said...

Well written... and some food or thought.

Lil Miss Sunshine said...

This case has instilled a lot of terror in my mind.
It psyches me out at times.
The worst is that this sickness is everywhere and you can't pin point a particular group.
Right from my colleagues to migrants.

I can only hope for a safer day!