New Delhi, India
By Mansi Thapliyal
My city is known as the so-called “rape capital of the country”. They say it’s unsafe, it’s dangerous, it’s full of wolves looking to hunt you down. A lot of it may be true. As a single woman working, living and breathing in New Delhi, I have had my fair share of stories. But the labels and opinions associated with the city were accepted on one level – no one questioned them, no one asked why – until a brutal tragedy one cold December night which shook the world and forced everyone (the authorities, the public, the lawmakers) to ask themselves uncomfortable questions and focus the on safety of women. It is still an ongoing, raging debate, thank heavens.
Meanwhile, I decided to focus on what Delhi’s women face and what they think about it. How do they go on with their lives, their work, their families? Just trying to understand the magnitude of how unsafe India’s capital is became one of the most challenging and emotionally exhausting assignments of my career.
From call center executives to advertising professionals to tea stall workers, everyone has their stories and how they cope with it. Take the example of Chandani, 22, one of the few female cab drivers in the city. As she drove me around the city, a policeman stopped us at a barricade near India Gate. When he saw that a woman was driving the cab, he scraped his jaw off the floor. “You also drive a cab?” he said with an expression that suggested that he had spotted the Abominable Snowman. “I am doing a very unconventional job for women. Given that I do night shifts, I carry pepper spray and I’m trained in self-defense. Initially I faced a lot of problems but driving cabs at night has helped me overcome my fears,” Chandani said.
Overcoming fears, learning self defense, carrying pepper spray or sometimes, even knives - as is the case with Sheetal, who works at a night call center. After the brutal gang-rape of a physiotherapy student on December 16th, she picked up a knife and it has been in her handbag ever since. She says she has not stopped working night shifts or going out late with friends. “Something which needs to be changed is the mentality of men in the city, not my working hours or clothes,” she says.
Clothes; don’t wear miniskirts, don’t be revealing, don’t invite trouble.