Before I start with this one, I’d like to apologize for my tardiness. The last few months have been incredibly busy- examinations, mastering the game of table tennis, training my hyperactive dog- made it impossible for me to sit down and think.
The idea for this article in fact, came to me while I was in the process of doing, not thinking. After two months of sleeping under tomes of legal knowledge, research and Statutory Acts, I decided to celebrate the end of the semester by watching Avengers : Age of Ultron. Scheduling conflicts made it hard for me to go with any of my friends and at 22 going on 23, I refused to take my parents for a superhero flick.
This left me in a bit of a dilemma. Miss the movie or risk going alone? Logically, I’m sure even your brain considered the question, Why don’t you go alone? Which is exactly what my brain volunteered.
The irony is that, the simplest answer, is also the hardest. You see, in a country like India, the idea that a woman can go out alone for leisure, is quite abhorrent. A girl does not simply decide to go visit some famous monument alone. A girl does not go out to dinner, alone. And in a country where rape, street harassment and gender-related violence are common, a girl does not go out for a movie, to sit in a dimly lit movie theater, without a familiar person on either side of her, alone.
If you live in a country where the rate of violence against women is high, then I’m sure my words will resonate with you. One of my guy friends said to me the other day, somewhat defensively, that not all men are rapists. But whether a stranger is a rapist or not, is not what rules our behavior. It is the fear, that a stranger might be a rapist, that rules.
Fear is probably what caused my parents to issue a firm negative when I suggested that I might go alone. It is quite possible that they have spent far more time than I have watching the news about brutal rape cases, incidents of abuse, molestation and public assaults on young women (like the girl who was stripped and groped in public by 30 men, or the teenager who was molested in a bus in front of all the passengers and then thrown off) which has played a huge role in my parents’ mental conditioning. With an only girl child, I can understand that safety would probably be rated #1 on their priority list with fun standing at #10. I wasn’t too sure myself, having been a victim of street harassment and sundry other cases which have made me anxious, unsure and under-confident about being out and alone.
To counter the opposition, I put forward the following arguments to my parents.
a) It was going to be a daytime movie. b) I was a safe driver c) It was pretty close to home. When that didn’t wash, I made the following promises : a) I’d send an “I’m OK” text every few hours. b) I wouldn’t drive through back alleys or dingy places on the way c) I’d stay alert the whole time.
After what felt like a million years, my parents agreed. It had a lot to do with my age, and the fact that my track record is pretty sober (when I say sober I mean I’m a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-sex, non-everything-fun, boring child who’s idea of going wild is usually a good book and some iced tea).
To sum up the evening, it was wild. Yeah, really. I drove by myself. I parked by myself. I got the tickets from the kiosk by myself. I didn’t trip on the escalator. I watched the movie with my purse firmly tucked under my chin, a pepper spray within reach under the zip, and my eyes scanning the hall every few moments (which is hard when you’ve got on 3D glasses). I even peed by myself and bought popcorn by myself. It’s funny how many of us have gotten used to a guy doing all that for us (not the peeing part obviously). It’s either the Dad or the Boyfriend or the Best friend who gallantly accompanies us and brings us snacks and makes us feel safe. It was incredibly liberating to do all of that on my own, and it got me thinking, how many independent women want to do all those things : go for a long run, shop, drive, go to clubs, meditate in parks, sit at conventions, sip a latte without stopping under street lamps when it gets dark, looking over their shoulders, gripping pocket knives, avoiding eye contact, or feeling those pangs of anxiety every time a stranger stares too long or makes a sudden move.
Thankfully, there are women who do it better than I. Many of my friends are single, working, independent women who have gotten by impressively well, all on their own. But how? How does one after having heard such frightful tales of harassment, after being cautioned and curbed for most of one’s life, suddenly become self-sufficient? I asked these women the same and we came up with some things you should can keep in mind :
#1 There is absolutely no way of overstating the importance of safety gadgets. A pepper spray, a taser-gun, a pocket knife. An Indian remedy is also chilly powder. Chose your weapon. Always carry one with you.
#2 You can carry your phone and charger with you. A dead phone is a dead ally in emergency situations.
#3 Avoiding eye-contact is crucial. Most women who go out believe that this can help in drawing less attention.
#4 Keep people at home informed about your movements. When traveling by taxi or rickshaw either call someone in front of the driver or pretend to.
#5 Although fear and anxiety are common, use the adrenalin to make yourself more observant and prepared.
#6 When traveling over long distances, knowing that you’re likely to be in isolated areas, wear less revealing outfits. (This might raise a few feminist eyebrows, but most women believe that provocative outfits make them more of a target. If you agree, you can wear clothes that are more on the comfortable side, allow free movement and are less on the stylish side.)
#7 Always note down the registration number of the mode of conveyance you take. Text it to your friends or family. Traveling by public modes of transportation is always preferable.
#8 If your area has the reputation for being unsafe, then prudence would demand that you always go out with someone rather than alone. This might rankle a bit, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
#9 Try and stick to groups of women or families when you’re out in public places. They’re usually loud, chatty and safe.
#10 The city you live in is paramount when it comes to making decisions about independence. Is it a city like Delhi? Where the crime rate is obscenely high? Or is it a city like Pune? Where it’s mostly safe and the people are civil?
#11 Guts are essential. If you do find yourself in a situation where someone threatens your safety, be loud, belligerent and aggressive. Draw attention to the man. Make a scene. Offenders usually count on fear paralyzing you to the point of silencing you. Never forget to raise your voice.
#12 And finally always be alert. There are moments when you can get lost in what you’re doing, or be deep in thought, or be in a hurry. But these moments cannot happen while you are alone, unaccompanied and unsafe. By keeping your radar tuned to suspicious behavior you can save yourself a great deal of regret.
Perpetrators often point to things like women being alone or being dressed indecently as reasons why they should be raped, harassed or molested. The general idea, is that by having the audacity to assert our independence, we are asking for it.
We are asking for something.
It also starts with an R.
But it’s not RAPE.