Indian Decade

Being a Woman in India

It can be hard feeling safe as a woman in New Delhi, especially at night. A change in attitudes is needed.

My favorite thing to do on holidays abroad is to take long walks in the evenings in the new city I find myself in – most recently, that was Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. However much you love India, and I find myself missing the buzz of Delhi within a week of being abroad, there’s one thing as an urban working woman that I wish I could import into India (yes, even more than some great infrastructure) – the liberating safety one feels even when walking alone.

Unfortunately, many Indian cities – and certainly Delhi – don’t allow us that freedom. Yes, you can drive, and be safe in your cars. But it’s exceedingly rare to see a young woman walking down the street beyond 8 or 9 pm here. In fact, that Delhi is the country’s “rape capital” is a shameful tag we all live with. Our newspapers often carry scary tales of crimes against women – like the recent rape of a young woman who worked in a pub in Gurgaon, or a student gang-raped in a moving car in Noida, both popular suburbs of Delhi.

Despite the hue and cry made in the media over such incidents, little has changed. Depressingly, even less can be expected to if the investigation carried out by news organizations NDTV and Tehelka are to be believed. A joint investigation carried out by these two media brands caught nearly 30 policemen on tape, and exposed the shocking views they held on rape victims. Without exception, the 30 senior cops “caught on camera” have various takes along the old lines of “she asked for it,” “she dressed too provocatively,” “it was about money and when that didn’t work out, she cried foul” or “women who drink alcohol and stay out late at night are just asking for it.”

Police apathy towards rape victims is one of the reasons why the conviction rate for rape crimes is so low in Delhi (According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the conviction rate in rape cases in the capital is a dismal 34.6 percent, according to NDTV). That this apathy comes from such deep-seated insensitivity and gender stereotyping is a reminder that it’s unlikely we’re going to be safe anytime soon.

This is a situation that’s holding women back – dictating their career choices, job options and basic freedom. The Delhi Police came out on record after the expose to deny the charges, saying the force has a strong institutionalized mechanism for dealing with women victims. But although Rajan Bhagat, spokesperson for the Delhi Police, claimed “strong action” will be taken against those found to have expressed some of these loose remarks, we all know suspending police officers isn’t going to really change anything. We need to ask tough questions of ourselves as a society – and how we treat our women.

Not answering those is a crime a city like Delhi can no longer afford.