Rape: Are our safety nets working?

We may look at finding our strength in numbers (on roads), as clearly the safety net is withering away and might not work for long

yoshika

Yoshika Sangal | July 30, 2015



When newspapers carry a story of a heinous crime or a brutal sexual assault on a woman, the usual reaction is this: First, the person reads the article (usually due to a gripping headline). Second, expresses utter disgust or disbelief. Third, he or she discusses it with a peer group or friends (as that particular news report has caught everybody’s attention). Finally, they disperse saying nothing can be done about the unjust and cruel society that is incapable of change.

Maybe, few of the thousands of cases of sexual abuse all over the globe are followed by a mass uproar – physical protests as well as outrage on social media. The rest, however, are forgotten after a perfunctory mention in a small news item in newspapers.

I read the gripping headlines on the brutal murder of a 19-year-old who was stabbed 35 times in broad daylight by two men in Anand Parbat area of Delhi on July 16. The girl was allegedly molested too. I was perturbed over the state of our society. A few days later when I met my friends over dinner, the horrifying incident came up for discussion. Somebody mentioned two other cases which were in news.

A serial rapist had been arrested on July 15, also in Delhi, for killing and raping a 6-year-old. He admitted to killing 15 minors after sexually assaulting them in the national capital and Noida, Badaun and Aligarh cities of Uttar Pradesh, according to a news report in The Indian Express.

Another news report, in Hindustan Times, talked about “Three Indian Navy personnel and a civilian booked for repeatedly raping a naval official’s 14-year-old daughter since June”. Three accused were arrested on July 20. 

While discussing these incidents, we started exchanging personal experiences. Small, yet unforgettable, instances of harassment on Delhi roads – a man turning his head to stare at you while driving his car; a distracted biker bumping into the car in front; walking on the road beside you, a man turning up the volume of a Bollywood romantic song on his phone or starting to sing it loudly as if to you; the frequent stares and comments by passersby. All of us had similar incidences to tell. And all of us laughed them off. By the time girls reach their 20s they become immune to such incidents. Sulking over such issues seems pointless.

That night none of us booked an Uber, Ola or Taxi-For-Sure. We car-pooled in a friend’s car, who was accompanied by a “trusted” driver. Though she lived nearby and could have reached her home in half an hour, she did not mind seeing the four of us off safely to our doorsteps, before reaching home, four hours later. Women, like us, take these safety precautions. My bunch wouldn’t have met if the ‘friend with the driver’ was not around. We would have sulked about not being able to meet, but without our safety net, we would not venture out.

But not everybody has that choice. Girls from neighbouring cities and towns trying to make their careers in the metropolis can seldom afford the safety of a car and a trusted driver. Also, sometimes they work odd hours because of the nature of their profession – nurses, policewomen, BPO employees and journalists, to name some such professionals.

Misogyny and patriarchy have almost come to define Indian society. Our society has an inherent contradiction in its treatment of a mother, sister or daughter as compared to a woman on road. A man walking besides his sister is often overly protective of her, but at the same time he may lech after another woman passing by, or worse, pass comments and make lewd gestures. The woman, in both cases, is perceived as an object – one to be ‘owned’ and thus protected, and the other to be violated at will.

Isn’t it then time to change something somewhere? Are we, the privileged ones, with our safe cocoons of ‘cars with trusted drivers’, doing a disservice to those who cannot afford it? If our roads were to have as many women as men on roads at night, wouldn’t they be at least as safe as they are in day time? Are we too conditioned to carry our safety nets – a male family member, pepper spray, not wearing revealing clothes, choosing a safe time to venture out -- all the time? Are they even working? 

The Anand Parbat incident happened in daylight, so we know it doesn’t always work. The passersby were scared to intervene. If only we had the collective will to stand up to the two men, Meenakshi would have been alive.

We may look at finding our strength in numbers (on roads), as clearly the safety net is withering away and might not work for long. 

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