I'm a 23 year old girl from Delhi. As I cheered the citizens' rise to the occasion and dedicated protests on ground and on the internet, I was guilty of a sense of relief. I was relieved and thankful that I did not have the same fate as another 23 year old girl from Delhi. Not yet, at least.
Does this mean that I don't have the same fate? I can't be sure. Just because I haven't been raped in 23 years doesn't mean that I will never be raped. My grandmother always threw a fit if I wanted to step out of the house post 7:00 PM. Late Night movies are still a sure shot no, whenever I go back home. A week or so back, I called my grandmother and thanked her for not letting me go for that late night movie. Next time I go back home, I'm going to request my parents to pick me up if I have to go out for dinner. But I'm not sure if I'll still be 'safe'. So maybe, I will just stick to lunch and 'day' outings. Actually, raging hormones and/or alcoholism cannot be attributed to a time of the day. Maybe, I won't go out at all. Maybe, I will ensure I don't let anyone in my family go out and leave me alone at home. Maybe for all my independence , education and belief in equality, I'm subconsciously becoming more regressive than my own grandmother can handle.
I don't live in Delhi anymore. But I'm a Delhi girl. I was born and brought up there. I'm not saying rape is a city thing, but I want to tell you about what it's like to be raised in the capital of this very attractive, emerging nation that's opened itself up to FDI, this growing economy that dreams of double digit GDP growth. I want to tell you what it's like to be a woman living in the capital of the largest democracy in the world. It's scary. It's pathetically, depressingly frightening. It's a freaking nightmare. As I write this, I'm scared of using a 'westernized' slang or the mildest form of swearing because then I will be a dented woman who thinks it's cool to protest. I don't want to protest. I don't want to make this viral. I just want to know what I've done wrong to live in fear.
"Is it my fault that I'm a girl?", someone had asked me many years ago, when we were still in college discussing another heinous rape. In the capital of India, these incidents are far from rare. "Fault", I had thought to myself. So being a girl is associated with being faulty. We are of course objects of desire and it should only make us happy that the men want us so much. Why do we want to reduce infanticide anyway? It is mostly sex-selective. The parents are justified in their heads. Why go through the torture of bringing up the girl child when you can raise a son without any fear. The parents are scared too. They're afraid to always live in fear.
For years now, the movies have shown the hero saving the girl from being raped. We've all watched these movies and cheered the hero on. So when I was a child, I learnt that 'Prince Charming' was the boy who wouldn't rape me, before marriage at least. I learnt that I should look for the 'nice' guy. The nice guy is the one who will save me from the sex offenders. Because it was perfectly natural to have sex offenders roam around. When a man does not force himself on you, he's nice. That's not the definition of a nice girl though. She had to conquer a lot to be able to be called that. I grew up in a very liberal, understanding and for the lack of a better word, 'modern' family. They love me and I'm allowed to make my own decisions. They're not ashamed of having two daughters. But I am. I'm very ashamed and I want to apologize to them that I argued about curfew. I'm sorry ma, pa to have you guys live in fear every day of your lives. I'm sorry that you're actually glad both your daughters have moved out of home. Because home means Delhi. I'm sorry that your daughters are safer living alone in other cities than living at home. Home is Delhi.
Let me tell you about the city I call home. It has taught me that despite the scorching heat, I cannot leave the house in shorts because when I do, the impeccable men on the road will find it necessary to pass lewd comments. It taught me that even if I'm covered head to toe and walking on the pavement in what they call a 'safe, posh' colony, the men will halt their cars, look me up and down and violate me with their eyes, so what if I am standing outside a religious place. It doesn't matter because we're the faulty sex. But my home is a safe place. My home has a new flyover construction everyday. My home hosted the Common Wealth Games. My home is growing economically. My home has beautiful roads and fabulous architecture. In the bigger scheme of things, it really doesn't matter if my home is stunted in it's thought process. That's fine. It's not my fault I'm a woman. It's not theirs either.
I'm a 23 year old media professional who pays rent, tries to cook, lives alone. I'm the girl who's known to always have an opinion. I'm the girl who's known to stand up for what she believes is right. I'm the girl, they say, who will defend her argument till she's dead. But I'm a girl. So naturally I'm defenseless. If were in Delhi at the time of the protests, I'm not sure if I would have gone. What's to say I wouldn't be violated while protesting against sexual violation? It doesn't matter what I do or what I think; how good I am or not because my home has taught me to live in fear. Constant fear. When I'm in the safety of my home, I need to carry pepper spray and harmful weapons, I need to know where to kick a man, should he attack me. I need to ensure I don't use public transport, even if that's all I can afford. I need to ensure, I have a man to escort me all the time. I need to ensure that man knows all forms of martial arts so he can actually defend himself and me. Otherwise, he'd be attacked too. I'm a woman you see, a dented one at that. It's only valid that I have to cry out loud for respect, have hash tags created for my safety and have candle light protests to keep men from ripping my clothes off. But they'll always undress me with their eyes. And I'm okay with it. Because that's what home's always been to me.