Women Safety In India: As a teenager, I was always told by my mother to avoid clingy tops, and wear loose-fitting clothes which didn't reveal the shape of my body. As a daughter-in-law I was made to follow customs and traditions without reasoning them. I never felt safe at home or outside. Why does the onus of safety always lies with the woman why can't we create safe and empowering spaces for women?
Going out in body-hugging dresses was a source of embarrassment and I felt very odd when some stranger passed a nasty comment at me in front of my parents. I also felt very insecure while going out in the evening after dark. The towns I spent my childhood in were not safe for girls but people living there were quite tuned to this kind of life.
Safety has been a major concern for Indian women for many years. Women feel unsafe not only outside but inside their homes as well. A few places in India have such horrific conditions where women feel intimidated to even step out of their house when it gets dark.
As a teenager, I could recall some nasty memories when I used to go out of my house, unaccompanied by anyone. I would be so conscious of what to wear and what not to as wearing flashy and revealing dresses sent chills down my spine. And instead of being fond of wearing fashionable clothes I would dress up in demure kind of attire. I would feel so uncomfortable if I went out in tight-fitting clothes as there would be a skirt chaser lurking somewhere in darkness who would stare and make raunchy comments.
These incidents are common in small, backward and remote places in our country. Even big cities are also not safe for women.
To the girl child, we often urge not to go out all by herself to unknown places. But is the girl child completely safe at home? At times, a female child is mistreated at home or in the neighbourhood. The same applies to women who are exploited or abused after marriage but they bear with it silently. As a child, I came across many stories of how the daughters-in-law were kept on a leash at home and thurst with numerous responsibilities. They were tortured and their parents were relentlessly abused for having not given enough dowry.
After my marriage, I faced my set of challenges too. I was supposed to transform myself completely, somehow it did not sound reasonable to me. I had always very rational thoughts and a scientific temper but was forced to believe in superstitions and other rituals which were a part of the family I was married into. I was expected to follow them unconditionally. I was supposed to wear a sari with pallu on my head, no matter how uncomfortable I felt. I had faced difficulties doing all these as my upbringing was completely different where I was supposed to participate in sports, be good at studies, and not behave in a typical girlish way. At times, I felt quite an unease with my in-laws and felt suffocated as they were not ready to listen to my opinions. According to them, a good daughter in law should not be opinionated.
I was supposed to wear a sari with pallu on my head, no matter how uncomfortable I felt.
Such unfair and rude treatment to daughters in law gives rise to domestic violence cases at home. We all know how the cases of domestic violence increased by leaps and bounds during Coronavirus induced pandemic. Since a mandatory lockdown was imposed in the country, NCW data shows that crime against women soared up during this period; it was more than the number of crimes reported by women in the last ten years. Some evidence shows that the crime rate against women went up by around 131% in May last year. Ironically, India ranked as one of the most dangerous places for women in the world. Despite the legal framework being put into place, we are not able to control crime against women.
If we delve into the reasons behind such criminal and discriminatory practices which makes both home and outside unsafe for women we will find that right from childhood, a girl and a boy are treated in differently. Girls are not given so much exposure as boys and are always disapproved by others for taking risks in life. They are brought up in such a way so that they can take care of home and family in future and boys are not taught any household work. They are encouraged to be hardy, to speak up, to express themselves and take risks in life. As a result, they get very bold and confident.
Unless we change our mindset, the situation of girls will remain the same. Therefore, a slow and consistent change in empowering women and making our country a safer place for them is essential.
The views expressed are the author's own.