Photo Credit: K.Brown. All Rights Reserved.
Tonight at 10pm, after meeting for a coffee and catch up, my friend and I left ‘The Living Room’ in Hauz Khas Village in two separate auto-rickshaws to go home. On the drive to Vasant Kunj my driver struck up a regular conversation with me. “Where are you from ma’am?” “Do you like Delhi?” “Winter is nice, yes?” Before I knew it, what he was saying very quickly turned from bog standard references to the weather to sexually explicit and unnerving questions. Luckily, I understand enough ‘bad’ Hindi words to make out how inapropriate the conversation was. I also know the city well enough to gauge just how much time I had before we would hit a long stretch of road with no people about, lots of bushes and very little lighting. Needless to say, when the man began to slow down to a halt I could feel my heart in my chest.
So there I was, sitting in an auto rickshaw, with a man who I have no doubt had every intention of attempting to assault me, by the side of one of the most dangerous roads I can think of in South Delhi, in the pitch dark, with a blanket covering the side of the vehicle (usually a shield from the wind/rain), hiding me from the view of any person who happened to drive by. After protesting he’d run out of out petrol, and then a very loud phone call describing my exact location to a friend who lives nearby, the auto started moving again. By this point, I was desperate to get out and so got him to pull over a little further along the road when we reached lights and parked cars. The driver sped off. Guess he decided waiting for his 80 Rupees wasn’t worth facing the wrath of the man on the other end of my mobile phone. He also knew what he said, and what he tried to do to me was wrong.
I work for an organisation that aims to raise awareness of, and ultimately eradicate, the widespread problem of rape and sexual assault in India, so I am very conscious of just how dangerous the scenario I have described can be. I’m fortunate enough to have friends on the other end of the phone who will drop whatever they’re doing to come and pick me up off the side of the road at any hour of the day. It was a good thing I had credit on my phone and battery too, for that matter. There are numerous cases of women who don’t know, nor have any of these things, and so experience something much, much worse. By the time I was standing out in the open by the side of the road, I was shaking like a leaf. And, the moment I shut the door behind me in my apartment, I broke down into tears. I really am so lucky. Not just tonight, but in the grand scheme of things too.
What upsets me the most has nothing to do with my own experience this evening. Not that I unwittingly got into the back of an auto rickshaw with a criminal, nor that I was terrified when it suddenly hit home just how vulnerable I am here, a 22 year old woman alone in Delhi.
- I am upset and enraged by the fact that, rather than being a one-off incident, similar stories to the one I have just told take place every single day in Delhi, over and over again. Often with a much more sinister ending.
- I am sickened at the thought that the man who drove me to Vasant Kunj tonight is somewhere out there in this city, continuing with his job after a very narrow escape from a serious (and much deserved) ass-kicking.
- I’m furious that I don’t even trust the police here enough to have called on them for help.
- I’m mad at the men who simply sat and stared from inside their cars or the side of the street as I stepped out the auto in distress. I’m disgusted that sexual harassment is not a serious issue in everybody’s eyes.
- I’m frustrated by what I feel I have to write next….
Please please please tell your sisters, girlfriends, girl mates, mothers, daughters – tell all women – not to take an auto-rickshaw alone in this city. Especially after dark, and above all not on a journey through isolated or poorly lit areas.
I shouldn’t have to say that, because it simply shouldn’t be like this. And I’ve never been one to point the finger, so I won’t. Just keep talking about sexual harassment and rape. Keep discussing it and making a huge big fat noise about how WRONG it is. It happens every day, all over the world, and is not just an Indian phenomenon. However, there are indeed certain factors that perpetuate violence and harassment against women in this country more so than in others. If everyone were to stand up against sexual harassment and assault then the streets and roads of Delhi would be safer for everybody. The fact that treating women this way is not a social taboo is unbelievable. I wish crime against women was socially unacceptable – unaccepted by everyone and not just some. Harassing a young woman anywhere in Delhi is illegal. It’s frightening. And, it’s downright degrading.
Please SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT against the men like my auto driver tonight, who take advantage of women against their will. I can’t stress that enough.