If I’m walking on the road at night with my guy friends and a cop pulls up, I know he’s going to ask me what I’m doing there and whether my parents know where I am. I know he’s going to tell me I shouldn’t be out so late and ignore the group of lewd men across the road passing comments and drinking from plastic bottles. I know when I’m out with my girlfriends that any of them who are smoking are going to crush their cigarettes in a hurry if they see a cop pass by, while the guys smoke without a care in the world – because it’s the gender that matters more than the actual cigarette.
I’m used to girls barking at leering men, hearing stories about friends of friends holding guys by their collars at stations just because they tried to cop a feel. I’m used to being told to be careful whenever I step outdoors and I’m used to being careful. I’m used to girls convincing other girls not to go home alone, even at 10:30 in the night after a dinner date with friends. I’m used to going for reviews with my (female) photographer and messaging each other when we’ve reached our respective homes. I’m used to sharing stories about getting fondled, grabbed, leered at or followed. I’m used to my guy friends being overprotective and I’m also used to them being wary of helping other women in distress – because women don’t trust men, helpful or not. I’m used to reading stories in the paper about crimes against women. I’m used to subconsciously walking closer to another lonely woman who is being followed and not exchanging a word because we both know it’s just the way the city works. I’m used to avoiding crowded trains and buses – not because I’m scared but because at the end (or beginning) of a day I don’t want to constantly have to squirm around to avoid being felt up.
Of course it’s not every day. Most days I can walk on the streets and these things don’t happen. But we’re still careful. We’re still very, very aware. Because these things do happen, more often than we’d like them to. Are we scared? No. It’s all second nature to us. We don’t think twice about these things, we just do them. We don’t trust you, cops. We don’t trust you, men. We don’t trust this city (this country).
So, who do you turn to when you don’t trust the law? It’s like a horror movie, being played out in slow motion. This isn’t the first time any of us are thinking it; it’s just a time when it’s come to light in such a big way. Unfortunately, I don’t know what it’s like to talk to a policeman and feel safe. To some, this may sound strange, but you see – I’m a girl. And as nice as the policeman you’re talking to you is, don’t tell me there’s never a thought at the back of your mind about whether you can really trust him. We’re taught never to trust anyone – and with good reason.
When I say this to some people, they tell me I’m just being paranoid. That there are the few bad seeds in every police camp across the world. The thing is, I don’t care whether there are five or 500. And how do you know how to differentiate between them? Is there some sort of mark that says ‘Here’s a bad seed’ and ‘Oh here’s a cop I can trust?’
Yes, some of us grow thicker skins and walk fearlessly along the roads, talk our way out of things and feel ‘safe’ on the streets – but most of us aren’t really safe. We’re just lucky.
Do I want to have to learn how to bribe my way out of a cop mistreating me? Hope he’s not stinking of alcohol (have you ever been near a cop on a festival day?) and pray he’s not part of the morality brigade and won’t rough me up because I’m in a skirt or was at a bar? No. I want to be able to run towards them on a dark street, not further away from them. I want to be able to go out alone if I wish to – to walk on the road at 5 am if I want a little air. Why should that be against common sense? The people who should be stopped from wandering about the streets are the ones who are leering, following and trying to shove their hands up a skirt, gawking as if they’ve never seen legs before and getting angry because we reject them.
We’ve become an angry, frustrated, hopping mad nation that is so eager to hit, rape, kill and beat up people (road rage included. Anyone who’s travelling at peak hours knows too much about road rage than they’d like to) that all the rest of us can do is see ‘caution’ as the best way to avoid anything. Can you blame us? Can you blame us for feeling naked in jeans and long sleeved t-shirts when we’re passing by a group of men? It’s NOT the way we dress. It’s NOT what time we’re out. It’s NOT that we’re alone (the Delhi girl who died today after all, was not alone or indecently dressed). It’s NOT that we’re being stupid. It’s NOT that we’re being inviting. It’s YOU. Your state of mind. Your inability to respect us. Your inability to defend us. So we’re left swathed in layers in the Indian heat, because you want us to stop ‘tempting’ you, because you can’t control yourself; cowering in fear past a particular time and housebound because there’s no one left to protect us, from you.
Rhea Dhanbhoora has been writing since childhood, has published a book of poems (Poetry Through Time, published by English Edition in 2003) and is currently a Literature student, writing features as part of a full-time job. She can’t imagine a life without writing and one day hopes to be able to live and breathe off the words, preferably in an idyllic country setting somewhere. Food, music, reading and travel are high up there on the list of things she loves reading and writing about. Writing to her is, like life itself, an adventure – a journey to find her place, to define and redefine who she is over and over again and to live and learn through the process.