An abridged version – of this appeared The DNA on Thursday … ( i abridged it, i really need to learn to express ideas in fewer words) 🙂
Way back in the mid 1970’s, my parents were posted in New Delhi. I was in the first standard – and the only thing that I can remember is not being allowed to go out to play. Bad Man will come, my parents would say, and that was enough to get me to stay indoors. This was the time when the Billa and Ranga case had horrified the city. Two thugs had kidnapped two children and murdered them. Even in an era before the mass media, the fear that went through the neighbourhood was palpable. We were taken to school by an army of mothers, and brought back by another army. And then, my Father was transferred to Mumbai and, I played till I was ready to drop. The one thing about Mumbai that has always been there – right from the time I was a child till now – is that sense of physical security. I have taken rickshaws in the middle of the night from office or the studio to my home; I have driven home in the wee hours of the morning, been stuck all night in rains outside– and it has never, ever felt unsafe.
Many years later, as a professional, when I visited Delhi on work – my ears ringing with ‘be safe’, ‘get picked up and dropped back’, ‘Delhi is not a safe city’ – there was that sense of being on guard. How much of it came from all the advice that I received, and how much from a sixth sense – most women tend to know when they are not ‘safe’ – I do not know. I enjoyed my visits to Delhi, admired its beauty, appreciated its hospitality – but returned back to the hotel before dark. I never ventured out on my own anywhere. And returned to Mumbai where I could do all that and more.
I have travelled through large tracts of India. Travelled by ST buses, stayed in villages, shot in remote areas – but have never felt insecure about my safety. But Delhi has always made me feel unsafe. Given the headlines that we have all been reading in the last few years – about assault, rape and murder in India’s capital – it is hardly surprising. No female seems to be safe. Pre-pubescent girls, teenagers, students, housewives, grandmothers, working professionals – Delhi seems to be equal in making everyone a target. If any other minority – and let’s face it women are a minority in India and particularly in North India – were targeted the way women were, the hue and cry would stall the system.
So what is it about the region that makes it so unsafe for women?
Mr. P.Chidambaram indicated it could be the high level of immigration – but Mumbai has a large population of immigrants too. Mrs. Dixit indicated it could be because women were out at night – travel by local train post 10 pm in Mumbai and you would see women out late. KPS Gill suggested that it is because women wear ‘provocative clothes’ – whatever that means. All these go to put the onus of the blame on the woman. Of course, after a rape or a murder there is baying of blood holding the Government and the Police responsible Even if the accused are caught and sent into the legal labyrinth its’ too late for the victim. But, is there something else, I wonder, that makes Delhi so unsafe for women.
For me, the first and most important reason is bad parenting of the male child. Parents bring up their sons as though they were reincarnations of God. Utterly spoilt, not knowing that the word “No” exists, not doing an iota of work within the house, and not brought up to respect either their sisters or their mothers, they grow up parroting their childhood behaviour. Touching someone’s feet or getting a rakhi tied is not the only symbol of respect. Respect comes form every day actions. So, if Delhi and the rest of India has to be more equal towards the female, that behavioural change begins with the way the child is brought up. Values, Culture, Tradition is all very good – but there has to be a clear emphasis on the difference between right and wrong. And, this cannot be done by the State. It is the job of the family – and the famous Indian family system and family values has failed in this regard.
The second is societal. Ever heard the terms “has gayi to phas gayi’ or“ladki ghar ki izzat hai” – both end up assuming things on behalf of the woman. The first assumes that no means yes, and the second assumes that a woman only has those rights that conform with the family honour. Both sets of behaviour have been sanctified by mass media and upheld by patriarchs with vote banks at their disposal. In the name of tradition and culture – women’s rights have been trampled on. From the mass genocide – let’s call it what it is – of females across India in general, and the north of India in particular, to dowry; from feudal behaviour – a woman who leaves the home is fair game – to harassment it has all been excused in the name of tradition. If this is indeed our tradition it needs to change. Maybe this is where religious organisations can help. Give the girl child the right to perform last rites; the right to carry on the family name. Maybe there can be religious strictures against families that don’t treat their daughters well. As a people we are all right with the idea of committing crimes. We are not all right with the idea of sin.
The third reason is Governance – both local and state. The first thing that struck me when I visited Delhi was how dark the city was compared to Mumbai. The bulk of the light in the suburbs came from shops and little lanterns that street traders had. I live and work in the suburbs of Mumbai – use by lanes and shortcuts to reach destinations. All are usually brightly lit. The only time I have seen such darkness in Mumbai is when a power girder trips somewhere. Working streetlights go such a long way to reducing the sense of physical insecurity. Is there a correlation between 70% of streetlights in Delhi not working and the level of violence ordinary citizens in general, and women in particular have to face? I don’t know – but one solution could be to fix the streetlights. Then, comes policing – there is visible police presence in Mumbai – albeit traffic police. Somehow uniformed presence increases the feeling of security. Apart from the odd incident or two – Mumbai Police are fairly helpful to citizens at large. More importantly, my guess is that their presence prevents crime. They actually don’t have to do too much but stand there in uniform.
At the final level, there is the Judicial system – cases of violence against women need to be fast tracked. Be it dowry, foeticide, or rape. On paper they are, in reality they aren’t. Why aren’t parents being arrested for murder of their unborn child? Why is society quiet when rapists are let off after agreeing to marry the girl or paying blood money of Rs.50,000/- . And, finally instead of introducing the Death Penalty for rape & murder of women –as Mrs.Sushma Swaraj seems to suggest, the system should look, instead at chemical castration. In a society that values masculinity and maleness – maybe that is the most effective deterrent.
The article is here :