>I love being a woman. On most days. Other times, I feel frustrated, angry and very helpless. Because I am a woman.
A few days ago, I got free early from work and decided to take an auto to the closest decent eating place. I learnt a long time ago that trying to make friends at office is futile – and anyway, that’s not what I am there for. So there I was, all alone in an auto, happy at the thought of digging into a plateful of pasta and chicken. I got the auto right oustide the office, and we were speeding off to my place of choice. At the first red light, an SUV stopped a little away from my auto – black tinted glasses, blaring music – the vulgar signs of money, brazenness and danger in a city like Delhi. I didn’t pay much attention to it, till the guy in the passenger seat opened the door and signalled at me. The door shut when I averted my face. I glanced back. This time the guy in the rear seat had opened the door and was jeering at me. I ignored, because in that situation it was the best I could do. And prayed the light would turn green and the monster SUV would zip away and not chase me.
And that’s what happened – they drove away, after rolling down the windows, staring some more at me from their moving cars and laughing, as if it had been some kind of cruel joke. Those guys in the SUV, perverts obviously, were probably just enjoying the stricken look on my face when they opened and shut their car doors menacingly. They probably were getting their kick by just scaring a girl. And I’m supposed to thank my lucky stars they didn’t intend any worse than that!
A little way ahead, about half a kilometre, another car slowed down next to the auto. A sedan, this time. There was no one but the guy in the driver’s seat. By the looks of him, you’d call him decent, almost suave. But he peered inside the auto several times, giving away the truth behind that face. Unlike the men in the SUV, who seemed physically threatening, this guy was just checking me out. Not just checking out the way a guy would harmlessly check out a girl, but probably, trying his luck. You know, if I would give him the cue to stop the car, haggle a price (or maybe not) and get in with him. And he probably thought he could think that because I was alone in the auto at, what, 8.45 pm? I’ve never been looked at like that. And some part of me felt shamed for having given such notions to a man. Some part of me felt absolutely disgusted. And all of me felt miserable.
There’s no justification for a man to treat a woman like that, to make her feel so vulnerable, so frighteningly unsafe, so helpess in just a glance and a gesture. I felt stupid thinking I had plans of enjoying a meal! I felt stupid for being a woman! And I felt frightened at the thought of coming back t’he 2.5 km stretch – yes, that’s all the distance there was between my office and the market – in an auto.
I wept. Scared to call up anyone, because either they would scold me for venturing out alone or they’d be too scared for me – as women, even though we can’t shield ourselves, we always try to shield the people around us. And that minute, I hated being a woman, hated being so powerless to defend myself. What precaution could I have taken to make myself invulnerable to those men on the street? On a crowded street where everyone’s too busy with their lives to stop and stand up for you? On a busy road in the country capital? Is safety really a luxury for women?