Delhi Women – 1

Growing up in Delhi came as a rude shock after spending my first few years in small town Gujarat. I came from the land of simplicity to the land of bling, of ‘shosha’ – a term that is difficult to translate, but roughly means ‘show off’. And most of all, I moved from carefree to unsafe.

The rules in Delhi were clear – stay at home unless you need to go out. Never go out alone – always move in pairs or groups. That way, if you are in trouble, somebody can run and get help for you. Be aware of everyone around you and never let anyone even walk close to you. Be aware, you may be followed. But of course, with your eyes lowered. Never, ever make eye contact with anyone, certainly never with any male. And certainly, never ever smile. A smile is an invitation without limits.

Even today, I never sit in the seat behind the driver in a car for fear of eye contact. Ladies do not, if they can help it.

Each one of us who grew up in Delhi had dealt with eve teasing. I speak not of the disgust, the shame, the fear and the violation. However minor, it hurt our souls – we were minors too. We learnt to cope. I still do not walk at the edge of the road, leaving enough room to dodge in case some one lunges towards me. We learnt to walk with our elbows akimbo. In buses, we learnt not to sit on the aisle seat. A friend carried a compass and did not fear poking those who poked her. We were never alone in public transport, yet we were silent. Grim women, who feared to speak – for one never knew what revenge might be extracted for opening our mouth. Hushed stories were shared, and fear fostered. We were young. It took me years to start saying loudly and clearly – Bhai sahab, thoda peeche ho jaayeye. (Brother, please step back). Accompanied by the clear eyed look that teachers have.

There were more rules – never step out after dark, certainly not alone. Even during the day (we learnt later after a near miss), ensure that there are more men than women in every private vehicle. Never enter a bus after dark, definitely not one where there are no other women. Even today, decades later, I look at every passing bus and rarely see a woman there after dark.

Ensure clothes were camoflague – large, shapeless and designed to blend in. Of course we dressed prettily, for fun too. We were Delhi girls – we don’t get beaten down that easily. But we did not break the rules. There were bounds to everything we said and did, Lakshman rekhas never to be crossed. We looked like everybody else – bright voluminous ships floating by unseen. For to be seen, to be noticed was dangerous.

My grandmother had come through the partition. She never spoke of it, so I fear there were stories not to be told. I rebelled when she said that my arms must always be covered, I screamed when she asked me to look dowdy on most days, I ranted when she or my grandfather followed me when I stepped out to go to a friend’s house in the evening. It was much later that I realised that they were not judging me. They were judging the animals out there on the streets and wanted to be sure they were there for me.

There were those who did break the rules. No, not talking about ‘bad’ girls. We did not judge our friends, they made their own choices.  I speak of the ones who did not have to stick to the rules – the ones with brothers in politics with goonda friends or the ones with connections in the police or the army. Those girls were safer, they could even party in the evening, not ordinary girls. Those girls had more power than we did – their connections could get the predators beaten up – and they did. They were left alone. They had ‘back’.  We oiled our hair and studied at home. We cooked, we wrote, we repaired fuses – but all in protected zones. Did we miss freedom? We did not know any different.

We were not backward or awkward, nor did we see ourselves as conservative. But staying safe was a priority. The first filter in any decision making was safety. Stepping out of our bounds was unthinkable, the consequences too brutal to even imagine. I now look back and wonder if we grew up in paranoia. Then I read the newspapers, hear and remember the stories, and sigh – At least we were safe.

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I do believe that self referencing is not a good way to judge a society or a market. This is but a personal note, not an article.

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14 thoughts on “Delhi Women – 1”

  1. Great post! Accurately echoing the bruised souls of all of us who grew up in Delhi, who have deep dark persistent memories of being touched, mauled, teased, mocked, molested without mercy by the arrogant assholes who call themselves men in Delhi.

  2. I do not understand the hype about Delhi being so dangerous. I have lived here for 6 years, m in mid-20s and never once have i experienced anything disgusting (not that i want it to). That when i come from Mumbai, the most-outgoing of all cities in the country. Key is that it depends on the girl, if she looks too inviting or too rigid she is bound to attract negativity, be it in Delhi or Dharamsala.

    1. Too inviting? I’m sorry i dont understand what you mean by that. What kind of look invites someone to mock/molest/touch/humiliate or rape someone?
      Also, you need to understand that the Delhi being spoken about here is referring to the Delhi we all grew up in. To be honest, I have heard its much better now though the crime rate doesn’t seem to indicate that. But also to understand this one has to think about girls/women who are unescorted and aren’t stepping out in chauffer or otherwise driven cars. We were kids walking to school or travelling by cycle rickshaws in sedate school uniforms. Not sure how that ‘invited’ men to follow you while fondling their genitals that were hanging out of their pants or whizzing by on scooters while slapping your chest.. these were pretty common incidents I assure you. Infact I can recount to you n number of far more horrific incidents I and people have endured growing up in Delhi. Changed or otherwise, I hope I will never ever have bring up any kid (girl or boy) in this Indian city.

    2. you are fortunate mam, I am male. But i know the man They all are leech.Please for god sake do not blame girls, women. They all have faith in man that is man will protect him. But alas he is leech. Never Trust any man. please

    3. “Key is that it depends on the girl, if she looks too inviting or too rigid she is bound to attract negativity, be it in Delhi or Dharamsala” Woh. My. Gawd! What the hell do you mean by “she looks too inviting” *sighs*

  3. Yes – Delhi is full of “show sha”.
    As one woman to another I wouldn’t call the molestation by males ‘eve teasing’ the way the newspapers do as if it is a cute form of wooing females. It is harassment and frightening and we must use strong words instead of white washing them with terms like eve teasing, which allows male bad behavior with the rueful shake of the head and the boys-will-be-boys attitude.
    Glad you are writing about it, keep it up 🙂

  4. It was bad enough for us, but it’s worse for our daughters growing up in Delhi. Crimes against women are rampant as they never were before, and while for us the mantra was ‘stay safe’, for our daughters it is more: ‘hope to be safe but be prepared to strike back if need be. And that is precisely why, whatever views I may hold on how men should regard and behave towards women, my stand with my daughter is very clear: when you’re old enough to move about on your own, be aware of basic safety rules, take common sense precautions, learn at least one of the martial arts for self defense, be very clear that no one has the right to behave objectionably with you, and iof they do, you are completely within your rights to knock the stuffing out of them, and ALWAYS CARRY A LONG, POINTED KNITTING NEEDLE on your person!!!

  5. In fact the men in India do have a rapist mentality and every other man understands it. They do not doubt the woman but definitely do doubt the men around them. Thus each father, husband and brother wants to protect the woman in there family from the rest of the men. That is why they don’t say it openly that they do not trust other men, but restrict the woman so they are safe in the confines of the houses. thus such men feel that the woman should not step out or dress up as his area of protection becomes large and he may not be able to provide adequate protection to his woman.

  6. Delhi and the geographically surounding areas as also distant areas in Bihar, United and Central provinces and as far as Andhra Pradesh has been historically the stomping ground of thugs and pindarees, who killed yatris of 200 years back with coins tied in hankies pressed against the necks of unsuspecting yatris. They worshipped Rakthabeej danav and gave blood sacrifices including human sacrifices. At times, they included local rajas who joined the thugs for pocket money on the side. They became such a menace that the British had to deploy the Army. a single officer by the name of Sleeman distinguished himself by exterminating the thugs and pindarees. They are basically a criminal tribe where criminality runs in the blood. Some people are born criminals, how much politically incorrect it might be. There is a town in AP, named Sleemanabad, named after the british officer. After he eliminated the thug menace, india was peaceful on that front for the next 150 years (as far as the thugs were concerned). Even after independence, because of the good effect of British rule, the policing was so good that these people did not dare to do any illigality. Now, just like a rusted furniture looks bare after varnish wears out, criminality of these people has increased. The police and present day administration cannot cope. To prevent civil war, what should happen is that localised emergency should be declared and Army or other special forces should be called in to do targeted elimination of these born criminals. No mercy needs to be shown to women and children: all need to be systematically exterminated like the roaches that they are; no mercy to be shown even to womenfolk, as they will only perpetuate the dirty blood. If that happens, then things will come back to near normal and aam aadmi women/children will be safe for the next 40 years. Again repeat the cycle. Sorry to say that certain people: like chaddi banian people of chirala and the Charas of gujarat do not deserve to live at all. No human rights required for such people. They are born criminals. [There is a tribe in AP, who defecate in the house after robbing and killing the inmates].

  7. Thanks Meeta for saying this. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Delhi, and nothing prepares you for the horrors of it. I once had a police vehicle stopping to ask me if I needed a “lift”. Of course, the comment was addressed to my breasts.

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