By Titash Sen
I’m about to tell you a story. It’s not a new story. It’s a very tired old story. It’s a story that I am sick of repeating. But it’s an important story and I should have told it before. But I feel like I should tell it now, when people are trying to ban ladies night at Hauz Khas Village.
Last year, I was working at an office in Gole Market in central Delhi. I’d already lived in Delhi for six years then. I was already very familiar, very at home there.
It was a regular day at work. An entirely unremarkable ordinary day.
My mother was flying in that night. I was supposed to go pick her up at the airport. Delhi Metro’s airport line was fairly close to my workplace. A short 15 minute walk. So I thought I’d go directly to the airport from work.
At 7.40 pm, I left my workplace. I was walking along Bangla Sahib Road with its brightly-lit shops and everything. After a while, I got the feeling that I was being followed.
There was a man, maybe in his late 40s or early 50s, who was talking swiftly in Punjabi into a phone. What alerted me was a lewd reference to a woman’s physique and I turned to see if he was talking about me.
So I stopped and I dawdled and I let the man overtake me to make sure. He was still on the phone. He walked ahead. And he stopped. I walked past him slowly, and then he started walking again.
Then I tried calling a friend to let her know I was being followed, but there was something wrong with the network. I picked up my pace, and I tried calling again and again.
All this while, I wasn’t paying attention to what the man was saying on the phone. I filtered it out like background noise. He was speaking Punjabi which I do not follow very well.
But as my phone disconnected for the nth time, announcing that the person I was trying to reach was unavailable, I heard him say “gaddi” (car). And with that one word, panic filled my gut.
He was very agitated, and gesturing wildly, yelling into his phone asking someone to get the car around quickly before the traffic lights changed. I crossed the road at once, because if he had instructed a car to come this way and if it was already on its way, then at least they would have to drive a certain length to reach me, which would buy me more time.
I was already walking very briskly. The second I crossed the road, the man stopped caring about discretion.
“Gaddi lao, JALDI! FAST! FAST! Maal nikal rahi hai.” he yelled into the phone. And I turned to look, and saw him crossing the road, agitated and yelling.
He looked desperate. And I thought, what if he has a knife? Sheer instinct kicked in, and I ran like there was no tomorrow. There were a few people on the road. Not many, but a few.
I never looked back, all the while running. The idea was to just outrun him to the traffic lights and get on the first auto I could find. Everything else was a blur. While I was running I came across a man who was walking a dog. And I wondered if I should ask him for help, but then what if he was in collusion with that man? What if he was placed there, and I by stopping, would damn myself?
I made it to the auto. I don’t know what happened to the man. I never looked back. The station was just across the road. I didn’t actually need the auto, but I needed it to feel safe. I didn’t argue with the autowala when he said 50 rupees. I just wanted to be safe. I was trembling all over, and my temperature had risen. I was quite disoriented. But I told the autowala that I must be dropped at the gate, at the very entrance of the metro station, because what if that car was following me?
At 7.57 pm, I walked into the metro station. I walked straight into the men’s line, these finer distinctions not registering. After I was through the metro’s security check, I bought myself a bottle of water and sat down for a couple of minutes. I called my friend. Told her what happened. Got on the train. Sat through the 18-minute journey in a cabin full of ordinary people getting on with their lives. And I sat amongst them, trembling and feeling sick. At the airport, I got confused, and wandered around for quite a while before I found arrivals. And this is an airport I’ve been to at least a dozen times before.
All the while, I thought about victim blamers. And I grew very angry.
The police are shutting down ladies night in Hauz Khas Village, because another girl faced a similar group of men who thought they could abduct her. For her, the victim blamers will say that she shouldn’t have gone to Hauz Khas, she shouldn’t have worn a miniskirt, she shouldn’t have been drinking and that entire barrage of nonsense, while forgetting entirely to ask why there was a bunch of men prowling around like that to attack women in the first place.
I’ve been to Hauz Khas a million times, for ladies night or otherwise, and I’ve always felt very safe, even at one in the morning simply because it was always so crowded and there were always so many women around. Taking away ladies night and telling women to stay in will only make the world more unsafe, but who’s going to see sense here?
And now for me. As I sat waiting for my mum at the airport, I thought, had they succeeded, what would the post-mortem of my case be? What would the victim blamers say? Why was she there? I was going to pick up my mother. Why was she out by herself so late? It was 7.40 pm. Pretty much everyone goes home at that time. She must have been wearing something provocative? I was wearing a full-sleeved cotton shirt with a collar and trousers. She must have led them on somehow? I was walking on the pavement that I regularly walk on to get to the metro station. Bang in the middle of Delhi, five minutes away from Connaught Place. What could I have done differently for this to not to have happened to me? Was it wrong of me to be working? Would you have me sit at home? Is that what I did wrong? That I stepped out? That I thought I could make a life for myself? Tell me, is it wrong to want that? Or was it because I was carrying a cell phone. I hear some people consider that a very forward thing to do for a woman. If I had been wearing a dress and gallivanting around at say 10 pm, would it have justified that man’s behaviour? His very deliberate decision to terrorise me like that?
Even by victim-blamer morality, there is little that can be pinned on me here. So why was I picked out like that? Why did I have to run for my life?
Because this is the violence that we women have to suffer in our everyday lives. Completely random acts of violence that doesn’t depend at all, on where I am, when and what I am wearing. And I am tired of repeating this. Banning ladies night and caging women won’t make it go away. The violence will continue at home, in the cages. But perhaps, the hope is that woman won’t be vocal about it, if it happens inside their own homes.
You want to shut down ladies night? Go ahead. It won’t stop men trying to abduct women off the road with impunity. In fact, it will embolden these men. Because they will know they are feared.
It took a good couple of hours for the trembling to go away. Close shave. If I hadn’t done everything exactly like how I’d done it then, maybe I would have been abducted. For instance, I’d forgotten my earphones that day. Had I not forgotten them, then I’d be listening to music, like I usually did on my walk back from work. I would never have heard him. The car would have come and I would have been plucked from the road. And my mother would be left waiting at the airport with no daughter ever coming to fetch her.
So what happens to the women who were wearing earphones? How many go missing? How many never make it home? What happens to them? Because this was clearly organised: there was one man out to scout women, at the very least. Maybe more. And there was another guy on the prowl in a car, waiting for the scouts to tell him where to come.
Why is it okay for them to be out on the streets, absolutely uninhibited? But I have to ask myself if I’ve done something wrong, because of their actions.?
I may have escaped that evening. And I like to think they gave up after that. But what if they had picked up another girl, the very same evening?