Do Women Feel Safe In India?

‘INDIA MOST DANGEROUS COUNTRY IN THE WORLD FOR WOMEN’ screamed international headlines from CNN, The Guardian to Quartz. It was based on a Thomson Reuters report that goes on to say that India is more unsafe for women than Syria and Afghanistan.

There were 2 reactions to this.

  1. Oh damn, what is happening to our country?
  2. WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE? THIS IS ALL FOREIGN PROPAGANDA. INDIA IS VERY SAFE FOR WOMEN.

It was infuriating to hear men claim that India is very safe. Excuse me, do YOU know what I go through everyday? Do you know how many cans of pepper spray I make sure to carry? Do you know the number of Safety Apps I have installed? Do you see the number of calls I make while I’m travelling so I can ‘pretend’ I am on the phone so those around me will not try to hurt me?

You’re the ones who say ‘I’ll drop you home, it’s not safe’. ‘Don’t take a cab at night, it’s not safe’. You say, ‘Walk this side’ when we’re on the road together, making sure that no passerby can grope me. Are you just being fake-polite or is your head stuck up so far in a hyper-nationalistic cocoon that your pride matters more than my safety?

 

WHY THE REPORT FALLS FLAT

I KNOW parts of India are pretty unsafe for women, I live here. But to say it’s worse than a war-torn nation is stretching it too far.

So when Reuters was questioned on their research methodology, turns out it was based on just ‘Opinion’ and not actual data itself. They asked 548 anonymous experts to pick the countries they felt were worst in certain categories and that’s how the results turned out the way they did.

We can bash the report all we want, call for it to be taken down, claim it’s an attempt to malign India’s international reputation – but in all of this outrage, let’s not forget. #1 or number #100 on the unsafe list, the reality is that there’s still a lot that needs to be done to Make India Safe Again.

 

DO WOMEN FEEL SAFE IN INDIA?

First, let’s address the issues women face. To narrow it down – I’m referring to urban women. I’m not touching upon cultural issues like dowry, acid attacks etc.

I’m keeping it pretty simple.

Do you feel safe walking on a street in India?

When discussing this with a neighbour uncle, he said ‘Why are you worried, this area is very safe’. Like I only exist in the sphere of my home. NO MAN, I HAVE THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO SEE.

If you’re talking about making a world more accessible for women, you have to make it safer. Say for example, there was this workshop I wanted to attend, and it was imparting skills that would greatly help my career. But it’s about 2 hours away. I think, no problem, I can get there by metro. So there’s a way you have helped me out – because of the security on the metro, the women’s compartment and its high frequency, I am able to trust that I have a safe mode of transport.

But then, the workshop ends late at night. I think, no problem I can get back in a cab. But what if I cannot afford a cab? Then I think, damn forget it. I cannot trust the bus, or travel by auto. What if I get raped?

And there, another door closed. And they keep saying we need more female representation in different spheres of life.

It’s also more expensive being a woman. Cue the lame jokes about shopping and makeup (ha ha) but we spend a LOT more just on safety. Like taking autos for short distances because the lane is filled with staring strangers. Taking cabs instead of autos, because there atleast you can track the vehicle. Taking a home in a more expensive area, just because there are security guards.

DEALING WITH CREEPS

It’s exhausting being a woman in India sometimes. Just because everyday, you have to deal with people who think just because they have chest hair, they have a God-given right to undress you with their eyes. And if you look them in the eye, you know that they’re doing more than just undressing. And it makes you sick to your stomach. And there are hundreds of them like that.

Or the people who brush past you and whisper things you have now learned to block out. It sucks that you have to teach young girls to walk a certain way so that they minimise the chances of them being groped. I learnt very early on in school, that while travelling by buses – to make sure your school bag was full of books and hard objects – so anyone trying to grind behind you would be left with bruises. It sucks that WE are taught not to be ‘provocative’ with our actions & clothes – like as though men are like rabid dogs and we are pieces of meat.

But the most infuriating thing is the look in the eyes of men, who lurk in street corners with their friends. That smug smile they throw your way when you walk past, the things they yell and laugh about loudly. The anger you feel at being treated like an object & not a human being. The frustration of not being able to do anything about it – because there’s one of you and so many of them and it’s only going to get worse.

So that’s what we’ve all learnt to do. IGNORE. Pretend they are invisible. Pretend you are deaf. Don’t give them that sadistic pleasure of watching you squirm. But see here’s the thing. That’s what we end up doing EVEN when we’re not the victim.

MAKE INDIA SAFE AGAIN

We turn a blind eye to people harassing women, because we don’t want to get involved. Because that’s how things are. Because boys will be boys. Because I have stopped looking to others for help, because I know I will receive none. So I continue to employ my white noise machine, my blinders – because that’s the only way I can get through and keep living my life.

I have hope for the future generation. I see families raising young boys to be more respectful & young girls to be strong and fearless. I hope the next generation of women do not have to feel the need to carry pepper sprays & heavy backpacks just so they can live their lives.

I am not your sugar

I am not your petrol

I am just a human being

With fire in my soul.

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