I had to finish some work, so I was late returning home from office last week. I got off the metro (subway) at 8:45pm and started walking back to the working women’s hostel in Delhi as hurriedly as I could. My hostel is at a walking distance from this metro station but this path is badly lit and isolated. I was carrying my leather purse and I had this gut feeling that I was being followed. I looked around, saw a young boy walking behind me. I dismissed him thinking that he must be on his way home too. But instinctively I pulled my sling bag closer to myself. A couple of minutes passed and I felt the purse being pulled from the back. I was actually thinking, is it some friend trying to play tricks on me? But the rational part of me was saying, “At this time in the night, REALLY!”
And it was no friend. The young boy was actually pulling the purse towards himself.
If it hadn’t been my purse, I would have laughed at this funny scenario: A young girl and boy playing tug-o-war with a leather purse! It must have just been a matter of a few minutes but to me it seemed like a lifetime, but we kept pulling the purse towards our sides. He was stronger and was able to pull me towards the road.
My grip of the bag was good, but we had covered some distance. It was a deserted and semi-lit street. I think, I was within shouting distance of my hostel, when I cried out for help hoping that one of the guards would hear me and help. No one gave any heed to my cry for help. The sling of my bag gave way and the bag’s contents fell on the road.
I fell on one side near the pavement closer to the bus stop while he fell down somewhere on the road. While I was trying to get up, despite my hurt knees and hands, I saw a car was coming towards us. The driver obviously had seen some part of the tussle but instead of stopping to help, he actually turned around and went off in the opposite direction.
Then, I saw a motorbike move towards us. I actually thought that the biker might be coming to help catch the thief, but what did I know! The thief actually stood up, quickly hopped onto the bike and left!
I was angry and reaction was setting in. I was now realising the danger that I had been in. As soon as I entered the hostel gates, I contacted my warden. She was nice and she encouraged me to file a report with the local police. She called the police station.
A police inspector visited the hostel at 12 am that very night. Ordinarily, one would have to visit a police station and it would take days for a police enquiry to happen. He very clearly stated, “We can’t assign one police inspector for each girl. You are young girls who should realise Delhi isn’t a safe city and come home as early as possible!
You should be glad that he just wanted your purse, he could have very well have raped you and one can’t do much. You should return to the hostel sooner and behave like good women rather than courting danger like this.”
So, is 8:45 or 9:00pm late? How should a girl tell her boss that I am unsafe in your city so ensure that I am allowed to leave while there is light outside! I was so frustrated that I spoke up, “Sir, but you can at least provide some streetlights? Assign at least two or three for the 500 girls living on this street!”
He did not let me have the last word. He said, “Delhi jaise shehar mein aajkal chor guard ko dekh kar rukte thodi hain. Unhein jo karna hota hai who kar ke chale jaate hain! Aap khush rahiye ki aapka kutch ley kar nahi gaya aur aapki izzat sahi salamat hai!”
(In a city like Delhi, theifs don’t stop if they see a guard. They will do what they like and move. You just be happy that they didn’t take anything that belongs to you and your honour is intact (in other words: you were not molested or sexually violated.)
I was left stunned.
He made such a vociferous case that my warden discussed it with the hostel management and hostel timings for entering or leaving the hostel were altered within a week.
I have since then tried to reach home early and work from home if anything was required of me post 6 but in my heart of hearts, I know that is not a solution. I just wish that this was a safer city. Safety would mean freedom for me. Freedom to move around the city when I please, not be dependent upon others to ensure that I moved in groups to remain safe and of course, not fearing the protector’s tongue for further traumatising me after an unfortunate event. Maybe, having more sympathetic women in positions of power would help.
Until that day comes, life goes on with curtailed freedom, crushed hopes and omnipresent fears.