India is a free country. But if the women who make half of the population of this country do not feel safe in public spaces in this country, is it worth calling it free?
Safety and affordability play an important role in the lives of women using public transport, parks, visiting friends at a public cafe, or a pub at night. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, incidents of assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty in the country increased by 16% in 2019. While affordability is an important factor too, women in India are still to deal with safety when they step out.
I interviewed a 42-year-old senior journalist based out of Chennai who says that she has not met anyone who has not faced some kind of harassment in their lives. Recalling her own experience, she said that she was flashed by a middle-aged man while she was playing on the road with her friends in the colony. At the age of 13 or 14. “I could not register what exactly happened there but I felt uncomfortable.”
This incident followed her life and she confirmed that she felt repulsed by the male reproductive organ for a long period, “That’s what that incident of abuse did to me. For a long time, I did not understand why I felt repulsive with intimacy. In the end, you have to face it alone—what hurts more than the incident was the fact that I was blamed for it. There was no support, let alone justice from anyone I told the story to,” she adds.
While this was in a vicinity, 25-year-old Aprajita Vidyarthi shares her experience of public bus commute. “I, fortunately, got a seat once while I was travelling for work. A man came and stood facing me, the bus was packed and after a while, I started feeling something weird on my belly. It was a boner and that’s not the worst part. I still remember his face with a smug smile. That said it all.” It said that he was entitled to it. And there was nothing I could do. His expression told me that I was worthless.
Is this the kind of feeling we want to give women when they step out of their houses?
Women have been told ample times to take a man with them when they step out in the public spaces. That did not help in Jaya Pandey’s (name changed) case. A doctor studying Ophthalmology she recalls an incident when she was around 6-years-old and had stepped out to buy shoes with her dad. “The shopkeeper was holding me from behind and making me wear the shoes. His hands slowly went underneath my shorts and he was feeling my ass.”
According to her, her father was right in the front. “He kept doing it for a while and he wasn’t scared.”
The public spaces with or without company, across age and professions, have been a difficult place for women. Deepthi Vinod, a then student in Mangalore, recalled her college days when it was a norm to carry a safety pin on the bus while travelling so that they could prick anyone who tried to come close to them. It’s like carrying a weapon because the public spaces that are supposed to be safe for women are a battlefield.
All these defence activities account for unnecessary labour that our women go through just because they step out of the house. And that’s not fair. The abuse outside, and of course in our homes, shows that it is still only a man’s world even when women make half of the population. The math doesn’t add up. Does it?