Friday, March 15 is the deadline to join the World Bank in a call against gender-based violence. Participate in a text message contest for South Asian youth (18-25) – we want to hear your best ideas in response to the question, “What Will It Take to End Gender-Based Violence in South Asia?”
Get details of the competition here.
I grew up in Delhi, and it has always been unsafe for women and girls. In recent years I lived in Washington, D.C, which was a different world altogether. It was a welcome relief to travel on public transport without having men constantly staring at your body.
Then in December, just before I was to move back to Delhi, I heard about the brutal gang rape in my hometown. I felt outrage and deep anguish watching the news unfold the horrific story leading to the painful death of the victim.
My memory goes back to walking home from the bus stop in the afternoons in my school uniform. Often, men would whiz past on their cycles or two-wheelers and reach out to squeeze my chest or posterior. This happened so often that my girlfriends and I would rush into the gates of the nearest house the moment we heard a vehicle approaching.
One such incident, etched in my mind, was when I was returning from school one afternoon. As I neared the gate of my house, a middle-aged man on a two-wheeler, standing in the alleyway, called out to me, asking me for directions to the local temple. Being wary of strangers, I said I did not know. However, he called out again and said, “Excuse me madam, just one minute, look here,” and I looked back to see him unzipping his fly to flash me. Traumatized, I ran into my home, and told my emancipated mother who immediately rushed out to catch the guy. He had driven off and I remember my mother taking me in the car to look for him and report him. We could not find him.
As I grew older, we heard of such incidents once in a while, especially with girls using public transport, but since I had a car, I felt rather detached from them. I went out often with friends, driving home alone late at night. Call it the arrogance of youth, but I was quite fearless 10 or 15 years ago.
Returning to Delhi makes me realize that though the city may have changed in terms of modernization, many things remain the same old, same old. But I have changed, the careless attitude replaced by a more vigilant and practical me. No late-night movies with girlfriends, no driving alone at night – we do not want to tempt fate. I would not even go to Noida or Gurgaon, which are suburbs of Delhi, alone at night. Even at home, nothing provocative is worn, talked about, or played on TV in front of male domestic staff.
Many gruesome incidents have been appearing on the news, which calls Delhi “the rape capital of the world.” While these incidents happened earlier as well, they were not reported as much. Today we are getting reports on rapes every two hours in cities like Delhi and elsewhere, thus recording an unprecedented growth in rape cases across India. Sometimes I feel that this is a positive step toward better enforcement, but at times I feel the media reports are almost like sustenance to these vile creatures who do this to women and girls and seem to thrive on the publicity.
My sentiments, shared by many of my fellow countrywomen, are that we need stringent laws, fast-track courts for justice, and the severest punishment for offenders. But still we ask, “When will it stop?”
Priya, very nice article. It captures well what women go throuhg when using public transport in many developing cities, not just Delhi. I hope society will wake up and improve the safety and concerns of girls. As a father of two young girls, I worry whether they will be safe. The question you ask -- when it will stop -- is quite pertinent, and the answer has to be NOW.
When will it stop? This should become the tagline, the next campaign to address cruelty against women. Well done Priya!
Thank you, Priya, for sharing your perspective. It's very important for Westerners who are concerned about this issue to have authentic voices like yours to consult.
In answer to the question, I maintain that the emphasis has got to be on educating girls. The situation for women will only improve over time, and that will depend on major changes to current entrenched economic, political, and social realities - but the bottom line is, educated women raise their daughters to be strong, and their sons to take women seriously. Everything else, all the big changes to the legal system and the media environment and all that other stuff, will be a generational process that begins with how today's and tomorrow's children will be raised, but the one thing we know for sure is that they will be raised by women. Education for girls is the indispensable foundation upon which all other solutions are predicated.
Thank you for sharing your experience. Even though these offenders may thrive on the publicity, bringing these stories to the forefront is an essential first step towards tackling this horrible, horrible situation.
Thank you for your article, Priya.
I am, however, severely concerned with the focus of crime here in the Indian media. I am the mother of a sweet little boy. Boys and men are constantly being portrayed as being violent, abusive and evil, as if they are waiting for a chance to rape women. This is extreme; such portrayal is not only an insult to fathers, brothers and our own boys but also to the vast majority of mothers who love their boys and their husbands.
Rape is horrifying, but it only makes up for a small percentage of crime in India. I have often seen extreme sensationalism, bloating and fraud of gender crime statistics, which seem engineered to promote the hatred of the men in our society while completely ignoring the vast majority of health issues that men like my husband are put through everyday. Our crime records are similarly extremely one-sided, most domestic violence statistics do not even consider women as perpetrators. The stupidity of this is astounding, considering everything in your home can be used as a weapon.
Such extremist views of gender-crime is promoting gender disharmony and destroying our families. I am scared for my boy's welfare and for his health. Our laws are so biased that any random woman can make completely baseless accusations against my husband or my boy and he'll immediately be put him in jail. Such extremism has forever shattered the once cherished beauty of mother and child; women are being conditioned to hate even their own boys! I hope women such as yourself, who represent our issues will exercise restraint instead of propagating one-sided hate culture that stems from the the extremists of the west.