(DISCLAIMER: This post might not be appropriate for all readers!)
As we were waiting for an auto in front of the Gurgaon’s MGF Metropolitan Mall, my friend from Gurgaon made an unusual remark, “That is the place where they pick up girls.” I wondered what he meant..! When one uses two words “pick up” and “girls” in the same sentence, we presume, boys picking up girls for dates, or even prostitutes. The friend made a serious face and said “For Rape.” As an outsider, I was dumbfounded!
In the same week, I met my lady friend for a dinner in Gurgaon. The male friend offered to drop her at her place. “When she has a car, why does she need to be dropped?” She explained, “I cannot drive alone at midnight in the MG Road. When the guys see me alone, they chase my car. There have been times when these guys have stopped the car. We cannot take such risks.” Another friend added, “It is safer to park a car on the road than parking lots even in the daylight. The other day, my colleague was returning to her car in the parking lot. She used her automatic key to open the car. Before she entered the car, she noticed a man entering her car with a knife. She was lucky that she managed to run away from there.”
And there are several other stories. National Capital Region (NCR) folk narrate these stories as if these are normal events in day to day life. I always thought they were over-reacting and exaggerating – till I faced my own horror of molestation in New Delhi. I entered the jam-packed metro train in Green Park on an evening in December 2011. Very soon, I realized men staring at me, and moving uncomfortably close towards me. Before I realized what was happening I realized that 4 men were trying to grope me in that crowded train. What was more shocking is that these perverts violated me in front of my husband who was traveling with me. My husband shielded me with his body, and managed to rescue me from their terrifying stares and brazen touch, but I could feel his nervous look. He was helpless, angry and disgusted. Later, I heard him telling his friends, “They could not touch her. They started fondling my ass after that.” While I was lucky that I was with my husband and we managed to get away, I always wonder what if I was alone that day.
The ominous clouds from that painful night lingered on for days. I retracted fearfully thinking about my father, with whom I often travel worldwide. His fragile frame and impeding agility would not have allowed him to fight away these perverts. I couldn’t have imagined his pain and helplessness.
Then the notorious Delhi gang rape happened in December 2012, exactly a year after I was molested. When news channels reported the horrific news about a girl being raped in a moving bus, my knee-jerk reaction was, “rape happens in NCR every day.” Somehow we, the docile citizens of India pacify ourselves by saying, “oh this can never happen to us! The girl was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. This cannot happen to me or my family.” But this case was different. When I started reading more about the case, I started realizing how this could have happened to me as well.
Delhi rape case ignited protests across the country! Politicians blamed each other calling the girl a corpse even before she succumbed to her injuries; Delhi cops tried to pass the buck and patted themselves on the shoulder for apprehending suspects who blatantly left trails of evidence behind; media crucified selected politicians or police officers depending on their personal agenda. Nirbhaya fought hard, she wanted to live. She said this to her mother and to the rest of us listening to her spirit each day, but “she” quietly died after multiple organ failure. Her death somehow enlightened Indians, particularly women. A hard-working 23-year medical student, returning home at 9 PM with her male friend could be gang raped in a moving bus in the middle of the nation’s Capital, in a posh suburb, in the midst of heavy traffic. For the first time, I started visualizing the incident with me as the victim of rape. I started losing the essence of being a woman!
Until now I had been just like Nirbhaya – I enjoyed going to the evening movie shows, I loved my form fitting dresses, and I loved the flights of freedom my independent life provided me. Not swayed by safety concerns or social constraints laid down by the conservative Indian culture, I was never the one to return home by 7:00 PM. I proudly wore the badge of an international development researcher. I chose to travel to remote areas, and tread difficult terrains to learn about life beyond my comfort zone. But when Nirbhaya was brutally gang-raped in the middle of the city doing what I would normally do, it shattered my independent spirit.
Today after the death sentence was pronounced for 4 out of the 6 men accused, I felt numb. Nothing has improved for women in India, since this case. The Hindu news recently tweeted “Delhi records 1,121 rape cases in the first eight months of 2013, the highest in the last 13 years.” 1,121 rape cases even after “her” death! Adding insult to injury, Lancet reported that “around one in four men across six countries in Asia and the Pacific have committed rape.” This means, every four men I meet, one has potential to rape me. This fear has crippled my lifestyle. When I go for a dinner with my friends, I make sure I return home by 7-8 PM; I make preparations to avoid rape – I call my husband or my friend to let them know about my location and when I will approximately reach home. When I go to remote Indian villages for my work, I make sure my male colleague is with me; I make preparations to avoid rape – pepper spray, a pocket knife, clothing from head to toe, no eye contact with anyone other than work people. When I go out for late night movie shows; I make preparations to avoid rape – I make sure I am with my husband or some other male, in a car. I am constantly looking behind my shoulder and my heart skips a beat when a stranger looks at me too long. The fear of rape and molestation has imprisoned my spirit.
I still wonder if hanging of these four men change the mindset of other demons who can brutalize a woman and leave her to die on a forsaken street. When the newspaper showed the faces of those rapists in the TV, I closed my eyes. I was too scared to look at those faces. Somehow, I could feel “her” pain once again. When she succumbed to her injuries, her parents lost a daughter and her brothers lost a sister. With her, I lost my sense of safety, and my trust towards men.
 Though the study was not conducted in India, I am sure the results would not be too different if India was included.