Trigger Warning: Harassment
Follow up post to what I’d shared last weekend.
On the outset, I’d like to thank everyone who reached out to me and expressed their concern for my safety and wellness. I am truly grateful for all the love and support that was extended to me. Some friends even helped plan my day differently in light of what happened and tracked my location at regular intervals to make sure I felt safe. I’m ridiculously lucky and privileged to know such wonderful people.
As you may have noticed the barrage of photos I shared, I stayed back in Hampi after the incident. I momentarily considered cutting my trip short but made a premeditated decision to stay back and avoid a situation where I’m engulfed and paralysed with fear of travelling alone.
I resolved to go back early if the problem persisted or worsened. Even though I stayed back because I hoped to thrive in the face of adversity, I’ll always place self-preservation and care above all else. The remainder of my trip wasn’t as exciting and adventurous as I’d hoped it would be (before arriving at Hampi), and it is unfortunate that I had to be micromanaged to feel safe enough to venture out, but it was worth it. Not only did I get to see some of the most dramatic landscapes and exquisite architectures, but also regain some confidence and self-assurance.
In response to my initial post, some female friends told me this experience of mine validated and strengthened their worst fears about travelling alone in India. Some relayed similar experiences they’d shared even while travelling with friends and family. Being well aware of the prevalence and legitimacy of this all-consuming fear didn’t make it any easier to read these reactions to what I’d shared.
The reason behind sharing my previous post was to NOT instil fear and worry in the minds of readers, curtail someone from being independent, or even romanticise the idea of throwing oneself in the deep end to learn a lesson.
I’ve taken at least one solo trip a year in the last four years. Yet, every time I decide to go on one, I receive the standard set of messages from (well-intentioned) family and friends who ask me to — tag along with someone (anyone!), carry pepper spray/ safety pins, second guess my decision, or simply stay back and watch a travel documentary with ‘wanderlust’ in the title instead.
Over time, I’ve come to understand and empathise with the underlying message behind their concerns and am grateful to have people in my life who care about me fiercely. Still, I’ve found it disconcerting to see the amount of weight we lend to placing the combined onus of their safety, what unfolds in their environment, and the behaviour of their oppressor, all on women instead of taking collective responsibility to ensure the same.
I realise there’s a clear distinction between the concerns expressed by friends and family (one which lays heavy emphasis on preventive measures) and the latter (which rests on challenging and changing behaviours, attitudes and beliefs). Regardless, I’m unable to wrap my head around how our society would do anything to keep women safe, including keeping them off the streets, as opposed to making public spaces more accessible and safe instead!
The reason behind keeping women off the streets isn’t confined to safety, women are harassed and victimised even in the confines of their home by people known to them. The issue with public harassment stems from the nature of a woman’s relationship with her oppressor, and primarily, her reputation. The rationale behind curtailing women’s movement in public spaces isn’t solely based on streets being rife with harassment and violence, but also ‘who’ is perpetuating and causing harm.
Over the years, I’ve learnt even men are harassed on the streets — and this is where the distinction lies — only they’re not questioned for taking risks. The looming problem women and marginalised groups face are of conditional safety and who is allowed to take risks.
It is the very fundamental right to taking risks that women and marginalised groups don’t possess, especially while accessing and navigating public spaces. Their right to taking a risk is either constantly challenged or denied. While somewhat understandable, the act of focusing on women’s safety by disallowing movements in public spaces is not only warped and unsustainable but also detrimental to women and their rights in a subtle, sustained and long-lasting manner.
The aforementioned logic validates the idea that a woman is entirely responsible for staying away from harm and any harm which befalls her is a direct reflection of her own lack of judgement. It absolves society from taking collective responsibility to create safe spaces for women in public. This allows a public space to grow increasingly unsafe, hostile and unwelcoming. The argument also deprives women of their right to navigate public spaces in ways they deem enjoyable, safe, and comfortable.
I’d like to request anyone reading this to dispel all myths of metropolitan cities being the gold standard of safety for women and marginalised groups — it needs revisiting and redefining. Based on the innumerable list of preventive measures we request them to take, the safety awarded to them, is at best, conditional.
My intention behind sharing what transpired at Hampi was not only find a safe space to vent but also actively engage in conversations about the kind of feminism we desperately need right now. The only kind of feminism which will enable safe spaces for women and marginalised groups, transform attitudes and behaviour, and is one of inclusivity.
The need for women to substantiate the need to be out in public only if it serves a purpose is silly. The requirement to navigate through various restrictions and be awarded conditional safety only to have fun is a transgression of fundamental rights. The current mainstream discourse around harassment and violence is problematic as it is largely entrenched in fear, which further leads to selective outrage. The discourse on violence needs a shift from one that is driven by fear to one that’s embedded in pleasure.
I’m well aware of the challenges posed before me on this trip, this wasn’t my first and most definitely won’t be my last; much like this not being the last solo trip I take. I hope to remain unfettered by this, for I travel by myself as I thoroughly enjoy my company, because each trip I undertake makes me feel more liberated than the last and ultimately, because I want to.
I shared these posts to demand the fundamental rights of mine, women, and marginalised groups to take risks and unvarying their right to safe public spaces.