The horrific rape of a 23-year-old
woman by a gang of six men, who stripped, assaulted and robbed her
and then dumped her on the roadside along with her male friend has
outraged the nation. But for working women in the Indian capital,
it is an everyday scary situation that could happen anytime,
anywhere and to anyone of them.
Ask any woman in Delhi if she has ever faced sexual harassment,
molestation or what is euphemistically called eve-teasing on the
city roads - and the answer will always be a huge "Yes".
And if you ask a man why men are turning into "big bad wolves" the
answer will be trite: "Women wear provocative dresses" or even:
"Men can't stop themselves."
It is hard to pin down what is wrong with vast sections of the
menfolk of this city of over 16 million.
Some blame it on the geographic location of this historic city,
which borders Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where men have
always tended to dominate over women (that is why the violent
reaction to a young working woman who sought to hit back at them),
while some others pin it on the floating migratory population
where a number of workers live far away from their families.
Others say the rising crimes are due to growing inequality in
society - some ultra-rich and some very poor - adding to the
frustration level among segments of people who feel themselves
But the answer is not that simple.
One thing, however, is for sure: that woman in this city are
scared to venture out after 8 p.m. even if they are escorted by a
man or driving their own vehicle. In fact, a woman venturing out
at that time is very often viewed as a sex worker or simply,
"available" or "asking for trouble".
Anyone who goes to Mumbai can see the stark difference between the
two cities - one a financial capital and the other the country's
capital and the government's seat of power.
The first time I had gone to Mumbai I was surprised the way the
girls freely walked on the main streets wearing short skirts.
Frankly, I was aghast to see them out on the road past midnight
dressed like this. But I soon came to envy that girls in Mumbai
enjoy so much of freedom to move around as they want to. It felt
I can never forget my aunt's words spoken many years ago.
"Men are dogs," she would say dramatically whenever I would come
home late. And I would nod sedately.
As I grew up, I learned what she actually meant.
In buses or on the busy streets in Delhi, it is common to see men
touching women inappropriately, trying to lean on them or just
staring at them.
I too had my share. Till one day, I saw a man running in panic
after he was beaten up black and blue by a woman with her pointed
heel in a crowded bus. That day, I decided I had enough and
decided to protest the continuing sexual assault.
In fact, so much so that my parents stopped going out with me
because I would create a scene in the bus.
I can never forget an episode where I could have been kidnapped
and maybe met the same fate that the 23-year-old physiotherapist
It was quite late and I had an assignment at India Habitat Center.
As the road during those days used to be in darkness, I thought I
would walk to Khan Market, the capital's hip spot for shopping,
bustling with people. But as I was walking, I could see a Maruti
van slowing down and then taking a U-turn towards me.
The road was completely deserted and it was 9 pm.
As I was aware that MPs houses have armed guards, I immediately
tried to take shelter there and armed myself to shout my lungs out
The driver of the car was audacious enough to jump out and, before
walking towards me, he flung the car door open so that he could
bundle me inside. It was sheer coincidence that my husband reached
just in time and rescued me from a fate worse than death. But the
memory never fails to bring goosebumps on me.
But just because some predators are out on the streets didn't stop
me from working.
What perhaps helped me were the words of former Indian Police
Service officer Kiran Bedi.
Some years back, I had asked her while writing a story on crime
against women on what women can do to protect themselves and not
leave it to policemen or to another man.
She had a very simple but very reasonable answer - a woman walking
alone on the road should walk against the traffic so that no one
can pull her inside a vehicle, and second, a woman should always
trust her intuition.
I totally agree with her and it has been my motto ever since.
As I was telling my mother-in-law about the gruesome attack on the
young physiotherapist she couldn't stop herself recalling a
similar story but with a happy ending.
She was traveling alone in a public transport bus from Delhi to
Jammu some 30 years ago. It was very late when she finally reached
her destination and in the darkness forgot the directions. But
both the bus driver and conductor helped her and ensured that she
reached home safe.
"There are men, and there are men. Some are good and some are
evil. It is how they are bought up as young children that shapes
their personalities," she told me recalling the incident. For her,
the two men who helped her reach home were saintly.
But are such men are a rarity these days?
Whenever such incidents happen, a shrill cry is made for more
patrolling and more policemen on roads. But ask any woman whether
they feel safe with a cop, the answer again will be no.
If you go to them for help they will either ask you such questions
that will make you feel embarrassed or make you nervous.
Many women these days carry spray cans. But it won't help much if
a gang of men surrounds you.
My motto has always been - don't trust anyone. If I am going alone
late at night in the car, I try to huddle myself and try not to
make any eye contact with other vehicle owners - especially those
sitting in call center cabs.
I asked a male colleague how a woman could feel safe in such a
scary situation with a high crime rate and low conviction rate.
His answer was: Carry stun gun (a hand held electric shock weapon)
used the world over. It incapacitates a person by administering
electric shock aimed at disrupting muscle functions. In India only
policemen and the paramilitary use it.
Women too should be given these stun guns, maybe issued to them
with a license.
It is time that women too arm themselves - literally. It is also
time that men who act like pack of wolves be taught the exemplary
lessons of a lifetime that acts as deterrent to such gender
Kavita Bajeli-Datt is
a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org