By Vartika Tomer:
As far as I can remember, travelling in Uttar Pradesh has never been safe. Travelling late at night is not recommended. “Do not stop the car on the way in the dark and never get down from the car in a situation where you feel uncomfortable. Try to drive the car as swiftly as you can.” I have a few relatives from Uttar Pradesh, who have saved their lives by following this basic local teaching in the state.
Even when one goes out during the day, elders make it a point to give advice regarding safety. If you are a frequent traveller on the roads of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most common advise given by elders is to keep a weapon or bat in the car for self-defence. My family and I have been living out of Uttar Pradesh for professional reasons. Yet, we frequently visit our relatives and friends scattered in most corners of the state. We refrain from travelling after evening. When we have such ideas, our relatives warn against it. Ignoring the advice will make someone feel as if they are risking their life.
The recent tragedy with the family on the Delhi–Kanpur Highway only reaffirms the fear. When I read the news of a mother and daughter being been gang-raped on the highway, I was curious to know whether anyone was accompanying them in the car or not. It’s a typical mentality which seeks to find fault in the woman who has been raped.
Then I found out that the victims were accompanied by male members in the family. People did not get a chance to raise their fingers at the women. If the mother and her child were indeed alone, instead of giving the Uttar Pradesh Police a 24-hour deadline to solve the case, our leaders might just have said, “Ladke hai, galti ho jaati hai.” (They are boys, mistakes do happen.) Had such mistakes committed by boys been taken seriously earlier, the alleged rapists would have had some fear of the law and justice system. But wait! If I think this deadline drama is to prevent the Samajwadi Party from losing in the coming elections, would I be wrong? However, we can’t put the blame on a single political party.
Uttar Pradesh has been ruled by Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party ever since I was born. Roads in Uttar Pradesh have always made me feel unsafe. Just before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, all political parties are trying to take advantage of this case. All parties who have ever been in power must give an account of what they have done for roads and safety of women in Uttar Pradesh. It’s not just safety on roads, even local train journeys in the state are not considered safe for women.
Construction of some expressways which are safe is a recent phenomenon. I have always seen people cursing drives in Uttar Pradesh. I have experienced the same roads full of potholes. It’s a common sight. Dense bushes on either side of the roads become perfect hideouts. It not only hampers speed but it also makes travellers more vulnerable to crimes. It’s hard to get public transport at night and if you use own vehicle, you can become an easy target. If you find a police patrol van, you’ll usually find policemen sleeping most of the time.
You may feel a sudden qualitative change when you cross the Uttar Pradesh borders into Delhi, Haryana or Rajasthan. Both in terms of quality of roads and safety issues. Why doesn’t the government identify the most dangerous areas and appoint their most efficient staff to make travel safer at any time of the day for both men and women?
Caste and religion usually play a very crucial role in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Can I expect leaders to talk more on issues like women’s safety, better and safer roads? Especially after the gruesome gang-rape of a woman and a minor girl. We, the people of Uttar Pradesh are apparently moved by this incident. If we don’t want any repetition, we have to make it one of the main issues in the upcoming state elections.