By Navanita Das:
Last year I got to know about a corporate fest. That made me excited. I was living under the impression that the fest I had attended two years back at college was the last one, until of course, I decided to go for a post-graduation and had a gala time there. This fest was to begin on a Friday evening and end on Sunday. I was especially keen on going on Friday as the first round of a singing competition was to be held and I wanted to evaluate my position among similar dilettantes. Unfortunately, my friends already had other plans.
Now, that was a problem. I have always been an ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ person so, it’s not the lack of company that troubled me. Rather, the thought of travelling alone at night. But I decided I’d go and see the fest, chanting Shri Ram’s name on the way. Reaching the venue wasn’t as much of a problem since it was not too late in the evening. But I still had my GPS on as a precaution and the auto driver sarcastically commented that “with the GPS most passengers now know where they are going.” I felt a little uncomfortable and was relieved only after I reached the venue.
I thought I’d call a cab around 9:30 p.m. and sat down for the performances. After half an hour I was struck by another disturbing thought. I remembered the Uber incident that had happened recently. “No, I must leave by 9 and I’ll take an auto,” I thought. After another 30 minutes, I remembered another scary experience I had had on a monsoon evening that year when I had left the office at 8:45 p.m. “You might not get lucky every time; even a cat’s got only nine lives,” I thought and got up immediately, hired an auto and felt relaxed when I reached the bustling familiar chowk.
This incident, among many others, brings back the recurring thought of living in a ‘civilised jungle’. A woman can possibly survive longer in the Amazon rainforest or the Sahara desert than the lanes of our ‘civilised’ cities, especially after dark. You have to be careful about not getting hunted down by, well, literally anybody. That reminds me of a colleague’s stance during a women’s safety session in the office that year. “Whenever I am out in the evening, I tell myself I am in constant danger and can be attacked so I’m always on guard.”
Is this normal? No matter how much we advocate the right to dress according to our will, we would still advise our dear ones to dress ‘modestly’ if alone, although being fully covered is still no guarantee of being spared. We are advised by family members not to go out in the night but for people who work even on weekends at times, do we really have an option? Or even if we go out for fun, do we not deserve even that little amount of pleasure in lieu of all the hard work we put in each day?
A woman is expected to dress in a certain manner, talk in a certain manner and must be approved by her family, friends, relatives. Everybody actually and, God forbid, if something wrong were to happen to her, she’s done for life. Even if everybody sympathises with her, she’s always going to be treated as a ‘victim’. She becomes somebody who will carry on her shoulders the crimes of someone else for her entire life. When somebody steals your money and gets caught, who is more embarrassed, you or the thief? But rape is by far the only crime where the ‘victim’ is made to feel shameful. The reason? Well, the ever pervading notion that ‘purity’ is the most precious asset of a woman.
I have a problem with the fact that it is the survivor who loses her ‘izzat’ (respect) when this crime is committed rather than the criminal losing his. Increasing the deployment of forces might help significantly in reducing the frequency of this crime but until the society, as a whole, begins to respect the independence of women and stops measuring their virtue with skewed notions of morality, we shall keep on depriving our women of their basic fundamental rights.This adulterated freedom suffocates us. We are forced to change our needs, behaviour and attitude, and we even have to force our brains into thinking that this is the way by which we can live peacefully and with acceptance. We do want acceptance of the people around us, of the ones that we love but we want our share of freedom too. So, let us take a little breath of fresh air. Is that too much?