I’ve spent quite a huge chunk of my childhood growing up in various parts of Delhi. Like every other kid, I grew up playing near the park in the govt. colony where my grandparents lived, spending hours of power cuts out in the common ground playing till the lights came back on, travelling with my mother to see different relatives, cycling to school. But as similar as this growing up was to any other child’s, there was a different growing up that I did as a girl.
And surprisingly, none of it came from what my mother taught me; it came from my own experiences of Delhi. So learning not to talk to strangers in the park was combined with not wearing shorts or skirts so that straying hands couldn’t come in contact with my bare legs. Travelling around Delhi in buses taught me never to sit in the aisle seat to prevent being rubbed against a man’s groin “accidently”. Like me, many other girls in Delhi learnt a lot of tough lessons: Wearing your back packs in front in the crowded general compartments of the metro or in other crowded spaces to protect oneself from being groped, never walking back alone anywhere at any time of the day, dressing carefully, being responsible for our own safety because Delhi is not a safe place for girls and the worst of all- not creating a scene because people will invariably blame you. My brother is allowed to yell at me for walking back alone from the metro station at 6 in the evening because I am ‘a smart girl who should know better than to risk her safety like that.’ He grew up with me, but he never had to learn any of the life lessons I did. And this is where I like asking, why do girls have to do all the extra learning?
Why can’t our boys and men be taught different lessons? Why can’t we teach them that a woman is not their property and that she must be respected even if she isn’t their sister, mother or daughter? The need of the hour along with stringent laws and awareness about a woman’s rights is also reminding the men in our society their duties- of respecting women and treating them as equals. We might live in a free country, but a woman in India today is not free. She’s a slave of her fears; of being molested or eve teased in broad daylight, of being beaten up by her own family members, of being subjected to humiliation and condemnation if she dares to raise her voice. So truly, till we do not teach our male counterparts to grow differently than the way they have till now, no law or people’s movement can set the Indian woman free.