Protest marches. Traffic blockages. Banners and slogan-shouting. And endless, endless outpourings of grief, anger, rhetoric, but mostly outrage, on print and electronic media, and the Internet. And rightly so. Even too much is too little, sometimes.
The recent gang-rape of a girl and the assault of her boyfriend in a moving bus in New Delhi have made national and international headlines. It’s all we’ve been talking about for the past couple of days. Move over, Jacintha Saldanha, and Dhoni, you can take a quick coffee break – we’ve got bigger fish to fry, for now.
As a woman, I’m shocked. As an Indian, I’m ashamed. And as someone who’s recently moved to Delhi, I’m scared. And I know that there are thousands of others out there, like me, who will now think twice about evening outings, with or without the perceived security of a male companion. Yes, it curtails my freedom. Yes, the city is mine, and yes, I do have the right to go where I want, when I want, with whom I want. But no, I don’t want to get raped. And if that means staying inside the comfort of four walls reading a book, or catching the latest movie on my laptop on a bad-quality torrent DVDrip as opposed to the cinematic experience, so be it. It’s a small price to pay, for the sanctity and security of my own body.
I’ve been wondering why this particular rape case has shaken us all up more so than others in the past. Maybe it’s because it could happen to any one of us. That’s the thing about rape – it’s a lot closer, and a lot more personal, than we might think. But maybe it’s because this particular rape case breaks down all the rules, those ‘conventional notions’ that we’ve been fed with ever since we were old enough to step out of the house on our own. “Don’t go around the city late at night.” 9 or 9:30 pm is not late by any standards, especially in a city like New Delhi. “If you must be out, have a male companion with you, for protection.” The girl was with her boyfriend. “Don’t walk around the streets, take public transport, sometimes even autos aren’t safe – take a bus.” They took a bus.
So maybe that’s why this case is hitting us harder than the others. That’s not to say that other rape cases are more acceptable, or God forbid, forgivable. This case is making us sit up because it questions our own notions of conventional safety, rules that we’ve been programmed with, rules that we protested against but were told would protect us, but now have come to naught.
What’s to be done? I’ve been reading countless Facebook posts, some of which espouse public flogging, some which call for chemical or physical castration, and some which favour capital punishment. And I’ve read many articles online, which suggest measures like GPS tracking for public transport vehicles, better CCTV installations, higher frequency of police patrolling, ad nauseam ad infinitum.
But what will be done? Home Minister Shinde has said that tinted windows will be made illegal. What an idea, Sirjee! Let’s see if it stops the rapes, shall we? Can we honestly expect any changes in the system? Can we expect to feel safer? I for one, don’t. I used to think Calcutta was a safe city (apart from the occasional cat-calling and whistling, but hey, as they say, men will be men, right?) till I got grabbed by a cyclist in broad daylight. While I’ve been to Delhi about 16-17 times, I’ve been living here for the past 1 and 1/2 months, and I don’t think it’s safe by any standards. But this, this is just on some different level. What happened to the girl and her boyfriend is beyond comprehension, even beyond reprehension. It’s a level that we’re scared to even imagine, because imagining it makes it personal.
A close male friend has ordered pepper spray for me. There used to be a time when I thought pepper spray was one of the answers, but today, I asked him how it would be effective because in the amount of time it’d take me to get the pepper spray out of my bag, I’d already be under attack. I even thought about carrying a knife for self-defence. Then again, what can one knife do against six goons, drunk not just on alcohol but with power and lust?
My work shift sees to it that I come home around midnight. The office car drops me right in front of where I live. Yet I still can’t help being scared. I used to think living in fear was not the answer. But maybe there is no answer. When I leave for work in the morning, I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, staying alert for men who might be following me, keeping an eye out for potential attackers. Every nameless man out there on the street seems like a violation of my perception of safety. And I’ve never been more terrified in my life.