Male privilege, like any privilege, has been so completely assimilated into society that its benefactors are almost oblivious to its existence. Something like walking home alone at night, feeling safe, is so easy for men. So natural, that it doesn’t warrant a second thought. Women, unfortunately, can’t say the same. We don’t know the feeling of walking alone without fear in India, neither on a crowded road nor a deserted one.
Only last week, I had to make a short walk from where a cab dropped me off after dinner with a friend to my home. It was around 11 PM, so it was a wonder how I had the courage to take a cab at that ungodly hour in Delhi. Ever so often during the walk home, which was hardly five minutes, I was throwing furtive glances behind and beside myself.
Women will know exactly what I’m talking about. For men lost on the context, my senses were on-guard and alert for any strangers who may be following to grab either my bag or me.
All this while, between the hyper-vigilance, I was aware of the ‘surreallness’ of the situation. Wasn’t it awfully unfair that men feel free to dawdle along on streets at night as if they own them, while for women, even a short walk is crippled by fear of being groped or catcalled or ogled at or raped?
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Latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that there were 371503 cases of crime against women recorded in 2020. Rape cases averaged about 77 a day. Delhi, infamously known as the ‘rape capital of India’ the world over, clocked 997 rapes during the year, topping the list of Union Territories in this regard. More here.
Poor road lighting, bad infrastructure, lack of security personnel – all this and more contribute to making women’s experiences in public spaces unsafe. Street harassment can happen just about anywhere, from a busy market where a man may deliberately graze his hand against your breast or at a desolate bus station when you’re waiting for the train to pull in and notice someone has been tailing you.
It doesn’t help that popular entertainment has turned street stalking or rape into a comedy gag. A man tailing a woman, prompting her to walk faster, is packaged as a joke. But who’s chuckling? Women definitely aren’t.
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Do men realise how terrifying even the impression of being followed is to women? It’s the stuff of nightmares. Cases like the 2012 Delhi gangrape and 2019 Hyderabad gangrape have heightened caution for women out on the streets at night. So much so that our safety obsessively captures our unequivocal attention when it gets dark.
We’re watchful of our safety, yes, but are authorities? Are those we have elected to power doing their duty towards making roads safer for us? Is a gender-responsive approach being taken to improve street planning? Are there enough surveillance and law and order systems in place to deter gender-based street crimes? No, instead we have politicians daring to blame women for being in deserted areas when rape occurs. Read about this reaction on the Mysuru gangrape last year.
A woman walking alone on a road, regardless of how familiar the locale is to her, can tell you at least ten ways things could go wrong. Should anyone be living in their own country in such fear?
What can men do? For starters, keep that male privilege in check. It is important to be sensitised to women’s safety and understand that the world isn’t as accessible to us as it is to you. But should that mean it warrants condescension? A man telling a woman he will protect her on the streets? That he will fight off goons for her? That with him, she is safe?
This does not paint a picture of hope for women. Should we have to be dependent on our fathers, brothers, boyfriends, friends, colleagues just to walk at night? Listen to us and be supportive allies. Join us in our demands – beside us, not a step ahead of us – for public safety.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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