Delhi: The City Where Angels Fear To Tread

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.


25 thoughts on “Delhi: The City Where Angels Fear To Tread”

  1. Yeah,
    This is the problem in India especially in the bid cities. Women face such incidents and not many of them are reported. May be the problem is cultural or economical but it is widely spread.

    I feel sorry for it.

  2. Thanks for your comment Karteek, you’re spot on. And, I feel sorry about it too. Let’s hope that more and more people will talk openly about these issues in months and years to come, and that more cases will be reported. That’s at least a little step forward.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sunil, sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to you. Shoot At Sight looks like a great group. These incidents are horrible and the more people talk about sexual harassment openly, the better.


  3. What is the Police Commissioner Doing?

    Screwing over the Delhi Police by filling it with Jats who believe that “akeli aurat toh khuli tijori hoti hai”.

    What is Sheela Dikshit doing?

    She’s busy playing “Corruption, Corruption” with Kalmadi.

    What is the media doing?

    Covering Baby Bacchan’s arrival!

    And that is why Delhi is shit.

  4. Lucky escape. Pack your bags and move to Mumbai.

    A man once tried to feel me up in Mumbai, I screamed and ran after him. The crowds immediately responded, caught him, beat him up and thrashed him to the floor.

    [not saying that you can move around Mumbai with your eyes closed, but the likelihood of such incidents occuring is much less than Delhi]

    1. Had it been at all about fleeing the city, the entire effort this lady went to to pen down her abhorring experience stands defeated !!

    2. Thanks for your comment Megh! I always find it interesting to hear what people have to say about the differences between Mumbai and Delhi – especially in relation to street harassment. I’ve not been there yet, but have a feeling I’d like it.

      It’s encouraging to hear your brave story! Now, if only the crowds in Delhi could follow suit…

  5. In a country like India – with the population and expanse – it is physically impossible for the Police to reach out to help everytime on time. So they need help form others as well to curb this. There are pretty simple solutions to such things as long as people are willing to take the step:
    – GPS on all public vehicles – Govt needs to act on this
    – One touch emergency call service from mobile operators that pin point the location of the victim so that police can reach faster; the victim need not even speak over the phone – just dial the number
    – Carrying personal weapons like pepper spray, electric shock thrower to retaliate
    – Exemplary punishment to offenders to deter others – put the fear in these buggers
    – LIttle restraint on the part of women folks when venturing out alone in oddly hours (cover up a bit before you get into the auto/cab after your parties. No point putting ideas into the guys’ minds!)

    1. Thank you so much for your input Raj. You’re right about the police. I think GPS and one-touch emergency call services are great ideas, and I would love to see them implemented. A mobile phone app is available for women in Delhi which serves a similar purpose, but it is still early days and the results are yet to be seen.

      As far as covering up is concerned, my experience of sexual harassment is that it does not matter what you are wearing. On this particular November evening I was covered from head to toe, it was 10pm, and I had been out for coffee. While I wouldn’t encourage any young woman in any large city to put herself in danger, I also feel very strongly that it is the mindset of the men committing these crimes, and the bystanders who are not compelled to step in and help that must change.

  6. i feel sad when i read about these incidents in Delhi. I am from Delhi and i currently live in Bangalore. I have a sister and i have gone through my share of hell in making sure she is safe, when she is out, which included picking her and dropping her at 4 am from her friends place. I dont know why same people behave differently when they are in Delhi and in different parts of the country. My humble advice to you: take care of yourself, avoid travelling alone in a public transport late in Delhi. Enough incidents have happened there to prove that a mass social awakening and enlightenment is impossible in a short time.

    1. Thank you Charan, I too feel sad when I hear about sexual harassment. Your sister is lucky to have you to watch out for her. It’s certainly going to take time to change mindsets, but I think the fact that other parts of the country (and the world) take a different attitude is very encouraging. Let’s hope that by the time our younger siblings have children of their own safety on the streets of Delhi will have improved, at least by some degree.

  7. I read lot of excuses (India is too big, politicians are bad, police is unreliable, etc.) on similar posts. I also read ill advise like move to different city, as if murders, rape, and sexual assault does not take place in other major metro. Here is my suggestion…
    Everyone has a camera in cellphone today, take a picture of the rickshaw running away. You got the number? Good. Call your friend who will come and pick you up. Go home, get some sleep. Next day, call that friend of yours again, take him to the nearest police station and file a complain against the rickshaw driver (you have the number!). Even if 99% of cops do not follow-up, the 1% that will follow-up and bash the living daylight out of these scumbags will help curb the situation.

    1. Pradyot, thanks for your comment. Sorry for the delayed response! I think this is a fantastic idea. My one regret from this particular incident is that I didn’t manage to write down the rickshaw’s number. It was also one of the first things that my friend asked when he came to pick me up from the side of the road. Now that it’s in my mind I would definitely do so the next time, and encourage others to do the same.

  8. Hi Kara,

    I’m also a young, American female living in Delhi since September and I’ve already had a few similar experiences. Thanks for posting this, even though I’m sorry it happened to you!

  9. I read your post with a great deal of sadness. That is mainly because it appears that nothing has changed since the 1990s, when I was a student in Delhi. The catcalls, the lewd behaviour, inappropriate touching, Delhi’s men have mastered every form of harassment there is and there’s damn-all women can do about it.
    I second the suggestion of being allowed to carry pepper spray or tazors. Nothing less than those will help Delhi’s women.
    This line “The LIttle restraint on the part of women folks when venturing out alone in oddly hours (cover up a bit before you get into the auto/cab after your parties. No point putting ideas into the guys’ minds!)” is a good example of the prevalent thinking. Yes, let’s lock up the girls and put them in burqas, because clearly the right of the men to harass them is greater than their right to a livelihood and their freedom to move around as they wish.

  10. No point in sugarcoating the current situation in Delhi. Keep pepper sprays, baseball bats, knives or brass knuckles handy, always! Its going to take decades for the situation to improve if it ever will. And most rural and urban Indians are exposed to white women through porn and that image sticks. The police is not going to help you or will the locals bat an eyelid. Train in self defense, try travelling in groups always and have a few friends on speed dial. Lived all my life in Delhi and I have only seen the situation deteriorating. The adage that “women are not safe” is long gone, things are much worse now.

  11. that’s pretty bad and insane. Well I strongly believe Women should become braver now, because there is no way left out for us. Especially the people who can help us, they just laze around. How can we expect someone to protect us especially we are alone. I always say to my friends and other that we need to stand up for ourselves. if we can’t use our physique for self defense, let the gadgets do the work, atleast we would be proud that we didn’t make a move. And its not just for a particular country, its for all – everywhere.

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