I am a single, independent woman in modern India. I believe that financial independence gives me a sense of empowerment. I believe in taking my own decisions and being responsible for myself. I believe marriage is for companionship, not for security.
By that logic, I am also responsible for my safety. I know all the precautions I must take to assure my safety and the peace of mind of those who care about me. It is only sensible to not wander in remote areas after dark. It is only sensible to be accompanied by someone when you’re on your way back home after a party. Even in broad daylight we are exposed to bag and chain snatchers, which is why our mothers advise us to not wear expensive jewelry while traveling by public transport. These precautions do not undermine our freedom or feminity in any way. It merely ensures minimum exposure to an untoward situation. Somebody puts it brilliantly when he said ‘The door to safety swings on the hinges of common sense.’
Yes, I am embarrassed in admitting that I do have an after-dark curfew timing of 10 pm. This curfew is broken a few times only under obliging circumstances where I have a male friend to drop me home. This curfew also means that I may opt out of plans with my friends when I do not have reliable transport to get back. But I do not believe that this suppresses my individuality in any way. Such precautions surpass gender restrictions. It is advisable for men to not fall asleep in the cab back home. It is always safer to enter a crowded bus rather than a relatively empty one after dark for both sexes.
Yes, I find it frustrating that society fails at harboring a safer environment, especially for women. It is a vital part of our individual freedom and growth to be assured of a secure environment at all times. An individual cannot grow in an environment of fear and uncertainty. But at the same time, rather than deluding ourselves of a false sense of security, we can instead act on precautions that we do know. Precautions that it is safer to stay the night at a friend’s place than venture out in the dark to return home. Precautions that it is better to leave the office early and work from home in the evening. Precautions like not running across a road in haste knowing that the traffic may run us down.
These precautions are vital for any individual irrespective of gender and location. We are deluding ourselves into believing that we can throw caution to the winds if we are located in a city that is not the capital city, New Delhi. Carelessness is part of the reason why we make our surroundings unsafe for ourselves and fellow citizens. Carelessness is why accidents happen too. This is not to say that the victim of a molestation is to be blamed. This is merely to say that we are collectively responsible in working with law and order to co-create a safe and secure society. This is, in fact, a characteristic of any society, the world over. A society cannot function without the full cooperation of its citizens. Imbalances in security also exist in developed countries. It is a pity that while the media never fails to highlight the inadequacies of law, order and the Indian male at home, its myopia conveniently misses the high frequency of rape and molestation that occurs in countries abroad. As a result, it paints a highly exaggerated picture about the safety issues of women and tourists in our country which is unfaltering in the eyes of the general public whose minds have a tendency to generalize in no time.
The truth is that sexual abuse and molestation are an ugly truth of our global societies and taking precautions has never meant to undermine a human being’s individuality, gender or social status. It is heartening to see Indian women taking their rightful place alongside men in schools, colleges, workplaces and roads. Standing up for your rights is important, but not all battles are meant to be fought. Sometimes it is better to prevent the battle altogether.