As a thriving metropolis, New Delhi is taking steps towards becoming a world-class city but the safety of its residents remains a concern — especially if you are a woman.
As I stood waiting for an auto rickshaw near India Gate in New Delhi last December, three big cars slowed down within a quarter of an hour to check me out. They waited for a few minutes and then drove away without anyone getting out.Many of my friends have experienced much the same thing — especially in India’s capital, a woman walking in the street is too often seen as fair game if a man isn’t with her.When I came home, I checked myself in the mirror to see what it was about my appearance that caught their eye.Bespectacled, with no make-up, dressed in loose fitting jeans and a baggy sweater, I could not figure out why. I asked my husband, “Who do I look like?”He laughed and said, “In Delhi you just have to be a woman, how you look doesn’t matter”.I have been traveling by myself on Delhi’s public transport since my college days. Bus conductors have tried to brush against my fingers while giving me a ticket, and well-dressed, middle-aged men have whispered in my ear to ask for my phone number.These experiences have changed the way I behave on the streets of a city I otherwise love. I avoid looking auto rickshaw drivers in the eye just in case they get the wrong idea and I’m always on my guard against gropers while walking, especially in markets.I avoid driving alone after eight-thirty to avoid male drivers following me, or worse. A media colleague working at one of India’s national TV channels was killed last year while driving by herself late at night. At the time, the chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, said the girl should not have been so adventurous as to travel at three in the morning. She later said her remark had been blown out of proportion.A friend told me she complained to police when someone tried to snatch her bag in the market. Instead of investigating the case, the duty officer started questioning her about just what exactly she thought she was doing out at eight-thirty in the evening.When I look back at the families I knew growing up, I can begin to see why some men seem to think the way they do. As an only child, I had a pampered upbringing. But when I was invited to other families for lunch or dinner, if the dining room was too small to fit all the guests, the men would always be served first and given the best portion of the food.If a family could not afford to send all their children to private schools, it was invariably the girls who gave way and went to a government school instead. One of my friends, when he was a teenage boy, could go on dates without having to explain himself. But all hell would break loose if his sister had a similar adventure.When the friend of mine was looking for a suitable husband, her parents introduced her to a lot of people. She told me about one conversation she remembers: the first thing the man asked her was, “do you smoke, do you drink?”When she asked why, he said “you can’t take such girls to your mother.” He himself did enjoy a tipple, and needless to say she didn’t marry him.ALSO READ: Domestic abuse plagues India’s upper crust