It was heartening to see a sizeable number of men coming out on the streets over the last fortnight demanding gender equality and stricter laws for all crimes against women. However, for all their good intentions, men can never really understand what it is to be a woman living in Delhi.
For instance, they will never know the disgust and horror when some miscreants single out your car in an office parking complex right in the heart of the Capital (the most secure, they say) and write the choicest profanities on its windshield…not once, but twice.
It was not difficult for me to figure out why my car was targeted. Maybe I should thank my stars it was the car and not me. What was difficult was allaying my father’s fears when he saw the expletive-riddled car duly pointed out to him by our embarrassed cleaner. And he thought his daughter was out of harm’s way travelling to work in her own car!
The bitter truth is a woman is by no means truly safe in Delhi. And no, a car cannot promise safety either. While driving alone, especially at night, one has often been chased, followed and jeered at. About the public transport, the lesser said the better.
Several years ago, I remember how waiting for a bus back home from work at the Parliament Street bus stop after 8 p.m. was such a daily ordeal. On most nights, I had only a street vendor for company. Obviously I’d always be on my guard, alert and ready to run if need be. I would be equally paranoid and uncomfortable if there were others (usually men at that time of the evening) waiting at the bus stop as their ogling and idiotic comments made the wait more torturous. The fact that the Parliament Street police station was just down the road failed to calm my frayed nerves.
Moreover, when the bus did arrive, I would never even venture beyond the engine of the vehicle (which many private buses would convert into a kind of seating space using a wooden plank). Who in their right mind would attempt elbowing their way in a crowded bus and risk being molested? I remember taking on a very stern expression during the whole journey because for some reason I believed it helped keep people at bay.
Every night throughout my working years, without fail, either my brother or father would escort me home from the bus drop-off point since our colony was over a kilometre away and the stretch was extremely poorly lit.
So when I bought a car, I thought it a solution to a lot of our problems. How mistaken we were!
I no longer live in Delhi. Recently on a visit to my parents’ house here, I hopped on to one of those new, impressive-looking air-conditioned DTC buses for a short journey. I quickly realised that the interiors may have changed but the masses commuting by the buses essentially remain the same. The annoying stares brought back some old, unpleasant memories.
In the relatively sheltered environment of armed forces, which is my home now, my friends and neighbours often wonder why I drive with my car doors locked at all times and keep looking over my shoulder in even a thinly crowded place. It is the cagey Delhi girl in me. The fear and uneasiness my city instilled in me for being a woman refuses to go no matter which part of the country I am in.
(Parul Sharma Singh is a former Staff Reporter of The Hindu)