Darkness has fallen earlier this winter.
As I write this, there is an atmosphere of fear in my city, a primordial female fear that springs up like that of a hunted prey from the brain’s amygdala. It was not just one woman who was viciously gang raped in a bus by monsters posing as men. It was every common woman of Delhi. The college-goers on their walk to the bus stop with safety pins tucked in their fists. The sole woman in the metro who fights a losing battle with the men who have brazenly taken control of the women’s compartment, as other women commuters pretend nothing is amiss. The girl from my team who is groped by a drunken man just outside our Connaught Place office, and when she complains to the cop nearby, is asked, “Are you sure it was intentional?” My daughter’s friend, who isn’t allowed to come to our house any more, because we live less than a kilometre away from where the accused rapists used to live. Myself, who puffs her chest out and walks with a brisk clip in a pretence of bravado on the dark, lonely stretch to the parking lot after working hours.
“Women can no longer afford to be meek,” I warn my teenage daughters in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape in a moving bus in south Delhi, not far from where we live. “Walk confidently, never take any kind of taunts quietly, create a big noise, bash anyone who tries to touch you, and stop wearing those little skirts in public,” I say sternly.
My kids are generation FB, with their heads in their iPhones, their eyes on American TV shows, and their fashion sensibilities aligned with sexualised images of Beyonce and Rihanna. “Don’t tell us to stop wearing short skirts, mom. Tell them not to rape!” my 16-year-old lashes out at me, indignantly.
I am a progressive woman, and my life has taken an unconventional, black-sheep route to where it is right now. But I am a mother, after all. No matter how much I holler about women’s rights and our freedom to choose our clothes and paths, right now, I am on a hyper-alert, mother-lioness mode. I cannot see logic and psychological arguments on rapist mentality; I cannot argue intellectually about correcting social imbalances and entreating mothers of sons to raise them better.
No, I can only become afraid and angry, glaring at passers-by with suspicion and pre-emptive disgust, ready to spring out at anyone who dares come near my girls or me and rip their intestines apart as they did to the woman on the bus. I have become a monster of paranoia posing as a woman.
No, it was not just one woman who was gang raped on December 16, 2012. It was every common woman of Delhi. And every time the whistlers and molesters and brats with tinted car windows get away with audaciously treating women as objects of recreation, we will all continue to remain victims.
Change does not happen because we expect it. Change begins when we demand it. Something has to give.