Safe Public Spaces = Freedom to Live Life on My Terms!

scholarfreak
Posted October 10, 2018 from India

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.

This post was submitted in response to The Future of Security Is Women .

Comments 9

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Ngala Nadege
Oct 10, 2018
Oct 10, 2018

Hello
So sorry for what you had to go through. But isn't the state doing more to make sure the roads are more secured, like public lights(street light) ,police men who walk and work on these streets by night ? How can one not feel free while moving on their on street? This is one of the problems we have here .
The community too need to bring up vigilante group to help with the insecurities because the state can't do it alone.
Please be safe !
Thanks for sharing dear

scholarfreak
Oct 11, 2018
Oct 11, 2018

Dear Ngala,
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I realise that the state can't do it all. What I want is that the state learns to be a little sensitive!

I mean the policeman's attitude says it all. Of course with limited capacity, citizens also need find innovative methods of looking out for each other but if the protector's start telling us: oh you were out so late, you should just be glad that you werent raped and they just wanted your purse (or imply the same) then I have a problem.
I am glad that I could share this. Street lighting or having more police men on the street won't help... we need 360 degrees of solutions.
In solidarity!

khayimoti
Oct 10, 2018
Oct 10, 2018

Reading this story to the end made me powder, maybe you should start a campaign for streets to be well lit. Some how, people get scared in the light, and also maybe you could start a campaign online for Delhi women titled *Safe time alone;How possible can it be?*, in the course of sharing ideas with the people faced with this danger first hand, don't be surprised at the wonderful ideas that can come up and you women start re writing your story about safety. Don't loose hope, keep the faith, so your pulse stays on.

scholarfreak
Oct 11, 2018
Oct 11, 2018

Dear Khayimoti,
Interesting ideas. There have been some initiatives when girls/women decide on meeting at a point and claiming public spaces -- I think it is called 'Claiming the Night' here. It is an exhilarating experience.
But indeed, night and darkness have a strange relationship with crime.
Absolutely... I wont lose hope and knowing that you have support always makes one stronger. smiles...

Shatakshi Gawade
Oct 11, 2018
Oct 11, 2018

I can easily imagine this happening. I had a conversation with a friend the other day who kept asking why "women need to put themselves in such dangerous positions", and he refused to understand that the situation is CREATED by men, not by women, and how unfair it is for woman to be on guard all the time.
I lived in Delhi for almost three years, and was just plain lucky that nothing of the sort happened to me.

scholarfreak
Oct 11, 2018
Oct 11, 2018

Dear Shatakshi,
You have said it all. I have a problem with this attitude! Public space should be as much mine as it is yours despite the hour. Criminal activities happen, governments need to do more but no guy would have been told: "why did you go out so late in the night?" And come to think of it, would a policeman even consider 9pm late for a boy/man?

Delhi grows on you despite weird incidents. Only when I forget fear does the city allow me to enjoy its bounty.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

smiles...

Shatakshi Gawade
Oct 12, 2018
Oct 12, 2018

Men wouldn't be asked that.
I do hope you can enjoy the history and modernity of Delhi thoroughly.
Hugs!

jlanghus
Oct 12, 2018
Oct 12, 2018

Hi there,

Thanks for sharing your story and building awareness. This isn't good, to say the least. Have you thought about working with Safecity to work on the front lines of change India? They are doing a lot of tweetchats, reporting, workshops and doing some great work to stop the violence and changing beliefs in your country. This is their WP link so you can read more about it: https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/safecity. We need to hope for a better, safer future, and not accept this officer's viewpoint.

Hope you're having a good day, and good luck with your story submission.

Obisakin Busayo
Oct 15, 2018
Oct 15, 2018

This is really so sad and that is how it is also in my country. Women and girls don't have free movement and if you are attacked you are blamed that you are not taken enough precaution. I hope there will be a time that women and girls would be freely moving around any time of the day. In fact if it is a very secluded place the security you think would protect you may even be the one that will attack you. Thank you for sharing my sister we will continue to raise our voices until our world is safe for us females