Living between fears and tears

After the New Delhi gang-rape in December 2012 , along with a lawyer and doctor resident of my building society, was asked to talk to young parents and their children about how young girls might avoid living a life “between freas and tears”

I was of the view that it would take a generation or more to change the mindsets of people who bring up boys differently from girls and see no contradiction in encouraging their sons to be bullies while locking up their daughters at home. Girls, therefore, have to be their own saviours and take care that they do not get caught out in difficult situations – not as it should be but given h dismal law and order situation there were little alternatives.

When I had started out as a journalist, I had had to work night shifts that used to end past midnight. I stayed close to my office but I never waited for a taxi or at a bus stop because I thought that situation – of waiting alone at a taxi or bus stand – was riskier and would attract unnecessary attention, So I always walked back home – it would take me not more than twenty minutes at a brisk pace. But my aunt who was a Girl Guides’ trainer soon armed me with a 3-inch knife.

“Keep this with you, not inside your bag when you will lose precious time in searching for it but inside a file that you carry all the time. Any one try to trouble you on the roads, whip it out and go for his eyes. It will damage his eyes and incapacitate him immediately but it will not kill him. You will get out on the grounds of self defence, and it is no crime to carry a knife that is less than six inches. Better safe than sorry.”

I used that knife once and I can still remember the fright on the man’s face when he realised I was armed and therefore could injure or damage him rather than the other way round, He slapped his hands across his eyes and disappeared sooner than I could turn the corner and run home to safety.

When I told this story to the little girls in my society, they asked, “That is if you are faced by a single man. What do you do when five or six goondas surround you and threaten you?”

I am afraid I did not have an answer. Though mobile phones and pepper sprays are the greatest safety measures that girls could be armed with today, even a father or a brother or a husband accompanying a woman is no guarantee of safety and security when faced by a gang of criminals/addicts or anti-social elements hell bent upon committing a crime.

I am shocked that a fellow journalist in Bombay should have been gang raped while on assignment in broad daylight – does that mean women have no right to work or the right to safety? It is not as though a girl with a male colleague accompanying her to the spot had put herself to undue risk. But the fact of the matter is that there are no exemplary punishments for such crimes and no one now seems to be afraid of either the law or the government or any other authority. The feeling that they can get away with it is what causes this impunity and I am glad that the Bombay Police have arrested at least one of the rapists almost overnight and identified the other four – hopefully they will be nabbed at the soonest and the maximum punishment meted out to these criminals.

But what I hate most about such crimes is the politicisation of rapes – particularly in Maharashtra these days it has become a fashion to blame migrants for crimes against women when it is actually the male mindset that is responsible for such acts. Asking the Home Minister to wear bangles will not solve the issue, that act only demeans women, as though wearing bangles is somehow a sign of weakness and humiliation.

Asking men to wear bangles is a Shiv Sena specialty but I remember from my rookie days as a journalist that even Congressmen are not too far beh0nd in having an antediluvian mind set, One particular chief minister in the 1980s had responded by reprimanding women journalists when we complained to him about hookers hanging out ar railway stations after seven in the evenings adding to the risk of women returning home after a late shift.

Far from assuring us that police action would be taken to clean up the city, he said,“ Why should women need to be outside their homes after 7pm anyway?”

The women then had to approach the police commissioner who fortunately had a more progressive view and cleaned up the unsavoury activity from at least the prominent and nodal railway stations across the city.

So after many, many years working night shifts and risking life by taking assignments in remote and dangerous areas all over the country, I have come to the conclusion that it is not women who put themselves to risk a in any given situation but the male mindset that perpetrates the crimes against women even when rapes might not be physically committed, Like this sample from the Shiv Sena just a day before the B0mbay gang rape on Thursday: at a toll booth he threatened the woman toll worker with stripping and humiliation when she was not impressed by his exalted status.

That is why I tell the little girls who question me about how to ensure safety: it is not just you but your brothers. And your mothers and fathers must take the responsibility for both/that is when the country will be safe for you.

But maybe by then your children will be asking the same questions of you!

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