Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dilli Dilwalon Ki*?!

The reporter stood on a busy flyover from which a young girl returning home in the evening was thrown over by a mugger when she refused to part with her purse. The time was around 9 p.m. and the city was the national capital, Delhi.

The girl turned out to be the sister-in-law of somebody I know. That turned the incident from just another news item to shake my head over to an issue about which I have always felt strongly about. The safety of women in our national capital.

I first visited Delhi about fourteen years ago. That was the time before CNG buses. So, my first experience was that of foul, polluted air, stinging eyes, burning nose and an extreme inconvenience as we were stuck in traffic endlessly owing to the frequent passage of some VIP or the other.

Over the years, I have been to Delhi several times and quite regularly. There are things that I like about the city – the now clean air, the wide roads and flyovers, the shopping in Chandni Chowk. Some of these things are to be expected – hygiene factors, so to speak – in any metro and more so, in the country’s capital. But these are so rare in most Indian cities, including my own home town, that I cannot help but admire these.

Yet, I have never liked the city (including Noida and Gurgaon) as a whole. I always have this uneasy premonition and am always looking over my shoulder in the city. Not necessary that something unpleasant does happen but just the instinct, you know. And the sense that if you do land in some kind of trouble, you are probably on your own. This feeling is so different from what I would feel in my own hometown that it colours all my experiences of Delhi.

Take for instance, the incident that I cited at the start. It could happen anywhere. Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai – anywhere. After all, we do not live in a utopian, crime-free world. However, the chances of it occurring in a city other than Delhi are less. As a woman, I feel safer in the other metros. Not quite so vulnerable.

Adding to this general sense of menace and unease is the infamous statement of the chief minister, Mrs. Sheila Dixit, about the safety of women in the city. When cornered by the media on the issue after the murder of journalist Soumya Vishwanathan, Mrs. Dixit implied that the “adventurous behavior” of the murder victim while travelling home after work was to be blamed for the crime.

No wonder Delhi always projects this feeling of you-are-totally-on-your-own if you are out in the city. From men brazenly refusing to get up from seats reserved for women on the buses to a bunch of uncouth and rude auto-rickshaw drivers trying to cheat you on the highway connector between Noida and Delhi. From being followed by rather suspicious looking characters in Gurgaon at only 9 in the evening, only a stone’s throw away from a swanky mall to being ignored by the cycle-rickshaw driver when implored for road directions.

And I am not alone in possessing such sentiments. Our national capital is perhaps one of the most unsafe places for a woman. Every second day, there is some news flash about violence against women. Some are very high-profile like Jessica Lal murder and the rape of a seventeen year old girl returning home from tuitions in Noida and Aarushi homicide case. Others manage to garner only a single mention in the news ticker. But each tragic and senseless.

I do not have the statistics of such crimes at hand but they are likely impressive in an unflattering manner. It’s a really ironic state of affairs in city which is home to some of the most powerful women in the country.

And until some effective steps are taken (and that does not include staying at home, Mrs. Dixit), I will continue to wonder if Dilli is truly Dilwalon Ki*.

*’Dilli Dilwalon Ki’ is an affectionate sobriquet given to Delhi (Dilli) which means that the city belongs to those with a heart.

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