By Shivani Desai:
“Its past 8 pm. Damn the government. Where are the street lights? God knows what they do with all the money we pay as taxes. I should be hurrying home. I am so used to walking down this road every day from school to home. But things look so different and eerily weird in the twilight hours. Even the movement of the trees in the breeze feels creepy. Why did I choose to wear heels today? They make so much noise clicking away against the road. What if someone follows me? I can’t even run in these godforsaken heels. I should have taken up karate instead of dance at school. It would have taught me some moves of self-defence instead of moulding me into this shapely woman. Haaaiya!! Hee!! Haw! To top it all, I ate an extra slice of that large pizza at the birthday party. So much for not wanting to waste food. Now I have to waddle instead of walking. And mum is going to be angry because I am late.”
This is how my thoughts strayed that evening, till I saw him. A man. Fairly young. Shirtless. Dirty baggy pants. I would have ignored him as a beggar had he been lying slumped somewhere along the periphery of the road. Or probably a day labourer judging from his clothes. I would have given him a cursory glance and not bothered about his presence had he simply been walking in my general direction, instead of walking directly towards me. Staggering and swaying as he came closer. It crossed my mind that he was probably drunk and I should let him pass by. I halted and moved to the left. So did he. I moved to the right. And he followed pattern. He stopped short just a couple of feet away from me. A greedy gleam in his eyes and a wicked degrading smile on his face. He was mouthing words that I could hardly make sense of. I froze on spot.
I felt like a cornered animal.
It was a chilly January evening and yet I had beads of perspiration beginning to show on my forehead and my kurta was wet at the armpits. The man had managed to pull his trousers half way down, when someone from somewhere behind me sensed my predicament and let out a roaring shout “Hey you, what are you up to? Leave the girl alone.”
A watchman and another chap appeared as though magically, upon hearing the shout. The guy pulled up his pants, dropped his drunken stance, registered the scene and fled. I looked back, saw the Sardarji uncle who had kept out an eye for me, shouted back a hasty thank you and ran all the way home — heels and all.
Did the story sound familiar? Would you say it was along the same lines of another such incident that has been recounted to you? This story is mine. Every day, countless women in our country go through similar stories – so much that it has become a part of our daily lives.
That day, if the Sardarji uncle had not come to my aid… I shudder to think of what would have happened to me. I believe that every street, every area in our country is filled with people like Sardarji Uncle. And I only hope that every girl in trouble can get connected to these people in her surroundings.
Recently, I came across an initiative called #SAFE, a pan-India initiative driven by Social Cops (www.socialcops.org), a technology social enterprise focused on harnessing the power of citizens & communities to solve real-life problems. SAFE is crowd sourcing Community Watchers — people who have the passion enough to not just talk about women’s safety, but actually step up and take responsibility of making women around them feel safer.
The Call to Action Is Simple… If you want SAFE to come to your neighbourhood and have the courage to step up as a Community Watcher:Â Voice yourself on the SAFE MapÂ here