I am a girl, born and brought up in Bhubaneswar, India. I have had a very happy childhood as my family made sure that I had the best of everything that they could provide. Most of all, they made sure that I was well protected at all times. I don’t remember a single instance, till date, where I was allowed to step outside my home without an elder family member accompanying me. I left India some eight years ago and I have mostly been living independently away from all the ‘protection’ for many years now. Apart from the dangerous or shady areas (ghettos) which exist in every big city on this planet, which one must avoid, I can say that I have never felt unsafe living alone in these foreign cities. Maybe I just got lucky. However, when I come home for a visit, I realize that nothing has changed. My family still feels the need to guard me. Whenever, I step out of home I need to check the availability of either my father, brother, mother or husband to go outside. Even if it’s only for a short while. Why ?
Well, my mother has a simple answer. ‘India is unsafe !’
That is a bit too simplistic for me. So I ask again.
‘What exactly is it that makes India unsafe ?’
She says- ‘You know outside…… It’s not safe.’
Again..’what is there on the streets ma ?’ I ask.
She is annoyed by now and says -‘There are these loafers and hooligans lurking on the streets. They make it unsafe.’
And that answers my question. If we can analyze what is going wrong then there will be less need for women to safe indoors and more effort to keep the streets safe or to implement other correctional measures. Yet, the most favored action taken is to ask the women folk to stay indoors to avoid any danger.
Everyday we come across some piece of news about women being raped or some other misfortune happening in India. Some of the more horrific crimes that get reported in the Indian media, garner a lot of international attention as well. To the international press and population India seems to be a place where the condition of women is poor and far inferior to that of their western counter-parts and one of the most unsafe places to live as a woman. Sadly, there exists a problem regarding the safety of women, however India is neither the only country where sexual violence is endemic nor the only place where women feel unsafe. Recently, I came across an article which states that 1 in 5 women have been been raped in America. That makes America the number one for most number of rapes reported. However, as an Indian my only concern is about the safety of women in India and how we prevent such crimes from happening in future.
This feeling of fear transcends age, religion, caste, class or region. For many unfortunate ones even their home provides them with no safety. Stepping outside the house is a harrowing experience for most women, especially those who use the public transportation for commuting. One can fear inappropriate behavior towards women on a public transport or on crowded streets, with behaviors ranging from piercing eyes with hungry, dirty stares to pinching, groping, grabbing to pushing and falling on a woman passenger on purpose with pervert intentions. Most women at some point have had to deal with unwanted stares and comments either in relation to the clothes that they were wearing, or the makeup they had on or simply for being a woman. This kind of behavior can also be witnessed at a workplace.
Ofcourse not all women face this situation or get traumatized by such incidents but some women do. I have counseled a few young girls who have been deeply traumatized by such incidents and are even afraid to step outside their homes.
This is where I wonder…who are these men who make the streets so unsafe for us? We all have fathers, brothers, male friends, teachers, associates and colleagues, all men who form a part of this same society that we live in. Most of them are very well educated and well cultured. Men who are chivalrous and courteous. The men that I know, have never spoken or thought ill about other women or behaved in any discriminatory fashion. Instead they love and respect the women in their life. Most of them fathers themselves, absolutely dot on their daughters and would take all measures to protect their little princesses.
But yet, there are also these other kind of men who live in this very same society and are harassing, eve teasing, mobbing, molesting and raping women. Don’t these men have families? Are they not brothers, fathers, sons or husbands to someone ? Maybe, they are blind in lust, so deprived and twisted that nothing stops them from acting out on their cruel, lecherous and immoral intentions. They may even lack the very fundamental emotion of empathy that binds the human race together. Who should take responsibility for this ?
We, as a society, have to take responsibility for this. We have allowed this atrocity to continue for long by remaining silent and falsely assuming that curbing women independence can save us the trouble. Is it really possible in today’s world to prevent our daughters from stepping outside their homes ? Should we ask them to make all the sacrifices and to limit their ambitions and desires when the effort should really be to build a safer society for them to live in ?
We, as a society have not put enough pressure on the Govt. to change the laws and to make them more stringent towards crimes committed against women. To set up more fast track courts for speedy trials. To brain storm and implement more ideas that can ensure better safety to women.
We, as a society fail to integrate more women in the functioning of the political system in its totality. More women would give way to more women centric issues being raised in the Parliament and for better laws to be passed which can also be sensitive to the issues faced by women.
Also, the overall attitude towards women needs to change. Women should not be forced to live their life according to standards and expectations set by others. They should be free to make independent life choices. Clothes and makeup are not the only measures to judge a woman nor are these indicators to misbehave with her. Do not use this as an excuse and unless she says so..please don’t assume !!!
Finally, the most important factor is the upbringing and environment at home. There should not exist a power struggle between men and women to establish dominance. A healthy home environment is required to provide children with the values and morals that will build them into mature, responsible adults. Children learn from home and their mindsets are formed from a very early age. If boys perceive women to be these asexual, docile, dependent beings whose only social place is to remain confined within the home, then they will grow up into adults who extend this view to every women they meet outside. Therefore, they will struggle to accept any woman who is comfortable in her sexuality (as a part of her personality) and is independent in her approach. Some men will even adopt extreme measures to intimidate women-to show them their ‘real’ place. This must stop and for this we should start by respecting the women in our own homes and not treat them subservient to men. Women, too should raise their voice, stand up for their rights and be willing to put up a fight against any injustice meted out towards them.
It is high time that we, as a society, be willing to understand and take notice that women have much more substance and calibre than what usually gets portrayed on popular media. Women are much more than wearing makeup, shoes and clothes. The mentality of Indian men and women are both in a phase of transition. More Indian women are now becoming financially independent, assertive about their contribution to their families and aware of their position in the society. Men on the other hand are gradually reconsidering their attitude towards women and are less threatened by their societal presence. Therefore, on this year let us pledge to stand together and work towards a better, more safer and progressive society. We must do this for us and the future generation so that our daughters can live free of fear and feel happy and proud of who they are.
Soumya Mania Ranjan