I personally never felt India was a safe place for me when I was there between 1981 and 1990. The irony was my parents thought it would be a safe place for me to grow up. I found India to be a place where men stare at you, make you feel uncomfortable and in places where it's crowded take advantage of the crowd and try to molest you. Like every Indian woman in India I have been stared at, groped, pinched, jabbed, greasy fingers in my hair...my stories are countless...and I can recall them all like they were yesterday.
There was the time when I was about 18 walking home with my mum in the evening after shopping (we lived in a hill station) and there was suddenly a power cut. I remember, someone creeping up on me and then his hand lurched out to grab my breast...I knew who he was in the moonlight. I dropped the shopping bags and ran after him; my mum screaming after me. I never caught him, but I knew where he lived. The next day I made my mum go with me to say something, threaten him. All he did was smirk and say it was not me, and how could I prove it. He is still on my hit list!
Then there was the first time I had my bum pinched, I was 14 in Janpath, Delhi and it was my first time in India. I screamed out and my mum and dad asked what happened, I naively said I was bitten by a mosquito. I remember my parents exchanging knowing looks, and I will always remember my father’s dour reply, ‘that was no mosquito, you just had your bottom pinched’. As I looked round into the sea of leering faces there was no way I could know who did it, so I did the one thing I could...I stamped on every man’s foot as hard as I could.
The placards at the SlutWalk Delhi protest read ‘Stop Staring: This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me’ to ‘I Have Nothing to Be Ashamed of’. The hundreds of protesters wanted to draw attention to the growing problem of harassment and violence that women in India are facing. The number of rape cases reported has grown 678% since the country began keeping statistics 30 years ago. Unfortunately, rape is now considered the fastest-growing crime in the country; though the rise in violence may not mean that there are necessarily more incidents of harassment and rape but that they are finally being reported.
A number of high-profile incidents in Delhi over the last year made this protest all the more urgent. A 30-year-old woman was raped going home late at night from her job at an Indian outsourcing company. The woman was gang-raped after being dropped off yards from her home by a hired-car service. The public outrage that followed made the police to take action.
While, the incidents of sexual harassment are so frequent on the New Delhi metro train service that certain coaches are reserved for women passengers only.
Sunita Kaistha, head of the Women Work & Health Initiative, a non-profit organisation in New Delhi believes that women are at risk because the economic growth in the country has brought more women out of their traditional roles in the home and into the workforce, particularly in urban areas. In New Delhi, Kaistha sees the rise in sexual violence linked to the rise of women in the workforce and says, "The culture is very patriarchal, and it's still very difficult for people to accept girls working, travelling, going out at night".
So, in reality nothing has changed in India on this front from my time there; sadly it is not a place that I would want to raise my daughter if I had one.
Photo credit: eveteasing.org