Guest post by TENZING CHOESANG
Nine years ago, on a hot summer day, I was sitting in the New Delhi railway station waiting for a train to Dharamsala where I had planned to do my summer internship in a human rights organisation. There, I met a person who used to live in the same locality as I did when I was a child. He asked me where I was headed and I excitedly told him about the summer internship I was going for. He gave me a sympathetic look and said in Nepali “God, what all, daughters have to do these days”. I was taken aback by his statement but I knew where it was coming from. I come from Sikkim, a beautiful state in the foothills of the Himalayas. Students from Sikkim generally come to Delhi for graduation and after completing their higher studies most of them return back. After their return, they either start their own businesses or get into comfortable government jobs and live with their parents. This is how things work there. So, I think he felt bad for me since he thought that I was being made to “face the big bad world” when I could have gone back home happily. I didn’t agree to his logic then and have not till date.
Since then I have moved cities, countries and finally moved back to Delhi, the place which I have learnt to call home ever since I graduated. Here, we curse the heat, bitch about the people and how loud everyone is. We also take long walks in Lodhi garden, marvel at the historical monuments, sip lattes in cafes and enjoy every bit art and culture the city has to offer. However, what happened on that fateful night in December has shaken everybody and affected everyone’s life.
Ever since that day, my mother has started calling me up every day at 8 pm to find out whether I have reached home or not. She also calls me up every morning to see whether I am safe or not!! The other day I was out with friends till about 11 and hell broke loose when she found out that I was still out. Never ever, since I left home which is almost 13 years ago, have my parents been so worried about me. I have lived in a different country, in a different continent as a matter of fact, not knowing a soul there. I have travelled with friends not knowing how we were going to reach our next destination and they have not been worried. But the recent turn of events has scared them too.
Now with every incident of such crime in the city, my parents rethink their decision of allowing me to live in the city on my own. With every such incident my parent’s plead with me to move back and with every such incident I also try to reason out with myself as to whether my decision to live independently was wise or not.
The growing insecurity of the city has affected me not only in the physical sense as to where I should go and what time I should go but it has subconsciously effected me in many more ways. It has affected my choice in terms of where I live, where I work, what I wear and many other factors beyond my comprehension. For instance after the recent attack on the “Northeasters” I would no longer think of moving back to Bangalore, even though I spent five years in that beautiful city. I no longer spontaneously react to every sleazy comment a passer-by makes and I negotiate with myself everyday in front of the mirror on what I should be wearing. Yes, I can say that over the years I have internalised this feeling of fear, which travels with me everywhere I go. This fear that tells me which lanes to avoid, tells me whether I should walk across that group of boys and whether or not I should be wearing that dress. I have begun to weigh the pros and cons of things which I never thought necessary ten years ago.
Further, with every passing day when the State decides to keep silent on an obnoxious dicta passed by the Khap, with every passing day when a sting operation exposes the attitude of police towards women, with every passing day when a school asks its teachers to wear aprons and its girls to wear overcoats and with every passing day when the State asks the woman, why she was driving alone at 1 in the night in Vasant Kunj or why she being a mother of two was out in a pub in park street and why she was standing outside at Duala Kuan in the middle of the night, that fear in me seems to tighten its grip.
Yet in this entire discussion on what the citizen police ratio should be and what helpline should be introduced we seem to have conveniently forgotten our role as citizens in this entire scheme of things. I ask this to all the people who had gone for the protests that was held in honour of that girl, how many of you have intervened when you saw someone harassing a girl , how many of you have yourself not felt the kick when you scared a girl standing alone by zooming your motorbike close past her.
The child sex ratio in the census 2011 clearly reflects our mindset as far as the girl child is concerned. Bodies of female babies being found in garbage dumps and wells is no longer news. We seem to be more concerned with the misuse of acts like the domestic violence act rather than its use, and with the growing number of acid attacks on women the Government has had to consider adding a new section criminalising acid attack within the India Penal Code. So how are we not collectively responsible for the growing incidents of crime against women?
It took the case of Mathura who was raped in the police station, to bring about changes in the rape law in the 80’s and now it has taken this horrific case of Damini to make us realise that we have not moved ahead. As one of the Parliamentarian rightly said this has happened because an entire generation of women chose to keep silent. I think the time has come for us to raise our voices, raise our voices loud and clear saying that what we want is a zero tolerance for violence. That what we want is to be able to let go of this fear, which has been a permanent fixture in our everyday life, so that tomorrow if such an incident happens again, I wouldnt be the one justifying why I was where I was and why I was wearing what I was wearing and that finally the law would be on my side.
Tenzing Choesang is a lawyer, currently based in Delhi.