PHOTOBLOG: Women in India’s capital resort to self-defence after gang rape

January 22, 2013

Women in India’s capital Delhi are gearing up for self-defence little over a month after a 23-year-old student was raped on a private bus in the city and left dying on a highway.

The episode sparked public outrage in India, where many women say they cannot rely on the country’s often gender-insensitive and under-resourced police force to ensure their security.

Now, women are mostly scared of taking buses or rickshaws alone at night and have started booking cabs with female drivers, taking self-defence classes and stocking up on pepper sprays.

Above, a woman waits at a bus stop in New Delhi.

“I made the decision to use public transport as my primary way of moving through the city because I really believe that it is my right to be able to use public space, just as much as it is of any man’s,” Simrat, a 24-year-old who works for a non-profit arts organisation, said.

“Not using the metro or an auto or a bus or a cycle rickshaw (because it might not be a safe thing to do) is not an option in my mind because if I stop myself from living my life in ways that are most convenient to me, I’m giving in to fear and ceding my independence,” Simrat added. “I use the metro because it’s the most convenient travel option for me and I will continue to do so”.

Chandani, 22, who works as a cab driver for a social enterprise which claims to provide safe and secure cab services for women driven by women, said demand for their cabs has increased after the rape.

“I am doing a very unconventional job for women,” she added. “Given that I do night shifts, I carry pepper spray bottle and I’m trained in self-defence. Initially I faced a lot of problems but driving cabs at night has helped me to overcome my fears”, said Chandani who has been working as a cab driver for the last four years.

Some women have started carrying arms for protection.

Sheetal, 23, pictured above outside the Delhi night call centre where she works, said she has started carrying a small knife to protect herself. “Something which needs to be changed is not my working hours or my clothes but the mentality of the men in this city,” she said.

“Half of the time I am alone with my children and sometimes I have to travel late at night from work,” said Nalini Bharatwaj, the 37-year-old chairman of a management institute as she holds a gun while posing in her office in New Delhi.

“It is enough to shut up anyone trying to molest me or even pass a comment if I flaunt my gun,” Nalini said.

In the picture above, Baishali Chetia, 30, a freelance visual artist, takes part in a Krav Maga class, an Israeli self defence technique, in Delhi.

“Men can never understand the lack of freedom as we do,” Chetia said. “For a woman, to learn how to fight and defend herself from any kind of physical assault, to thrive to succeed in the field of martial arts, which is traditionally considered a male domain, is the best way to break away from the shackles of gender stereotypes which say that women can’t protect themselves and therefore they shouldn’t step out of their house late in the evening without being escorted by a male member of the family or a male friend.”

It was a friend who gave Shaswati Roy Chaoudhary, a 23-year-old woman working for an online fashion company, a bottle of pepper spray.

“The recent spate of events that have come to light have left me all the more threatened and alarmed. To take the first step towards self defence I carry a pepper spray bottle,” she said.  “That apart, I can never relax on the roads once out of the house, almost always vigilant and looking out for trouble.”

Aanchal Sukhija, 19, a fashion media communication student in the Indian capital, said that whenever she hires an auto rickshaw she has to send a short message to her father giving details of the auto in order to feel secure.

“Government claims that the girl would be safer if she doesn’t step out after 7 P. M., but one question which still remains unanswered (for me) would be – how safe am I even under the brightly lit sky? For how long sending a series of texts including the drivers name and the vehicle registration number to my father after hiring an auto rickshaw would give me the sense of security?”

All pictures taken by Reuters photographer Mansi Thapliyal in New Delhi between January 7 and 16, 2013. Original reporting by Nita Bhalla and Mansi Thapliyal in New Delhi, writing by Maria Caspani in London.

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