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It’s not that I don’t want to call my home sweet anymore but the scars and unpleasant memories don’t allow me to think of it this way anymore. Being a woman in Delhi has been the reason. Be it morning, noon or night, I do not feel safe. Be it a bus, metro or an auto, I do not feel safe. Why am I always full of fear?
I was casually stopped by a motorcyclist for directions once. He showed me a piece of paper and asked me how to get to the address written down. As I looked and tried answering him, I realized he wasn’t interested in knowing the address. He was actually flashing me his genitals. I felt disgusted. Ever since then I have always hesitated when helping a man in public.
I was sitting on a bus early one morning and the passenger next to me was fumbling around on his phone. He deliberately tried to show me what he was looking at repeatedly. I avoided it for a while but then he shoved the phone right in front of me and I saw a porn video. God knows why he needed to show it to me. I felt disgusted again. My stop was next so I stood up and shot him a disgusted look. Ever since that traumatic incident, I always stick to the ladies seats or stand.
I was standing with a group of friends at a bus stop in one of the most posh, safe areas of Delhi on my way home from college. Being an area with two women’s colleges around, there were always lots of girls crowding at bus stops and roads. On the opposite side was a bus stop and we saw a man standing there gazing at all the women on our side. After a while, he decided to pee as he faced us with his pants around his ankles. We were all disgusted. Ever since then, even waiting for a bus feels weird.
Two girls were standing outside a movie theater waiting to get in. A man very casually took out his phone and on the pretext of reading something took their picture. What he did not realize was that the flash went off and people saw it. The girls realized only after two pictures and by the time they could confront him he ran off. What was he planning to do with those pictures? What did he gain by doing it? Again, disgusted!
These are but a few of the instances where I felt repulsed by the men in my city, the place I used to proudly call home. Could I ever call it sweet again? Are these sweet memories? For me, these incidents happened from a distance. Thankfully, no one has ever touched me but mentally I feel tormented.
We stop trusting and helping people around us because we become suspicious. Suspicious of what they might want, fearful of what they might do. Why do I stop myself from being a good human being and helping others just because I fear? I feel like a coward at times because I feel so unsafe and I end up in a deep dilemma. Do I help and put myself at risk or do I keep my head down and just make it home?
My fear has begun to subside after learning from the organizations that I’ve worked with that living in fear is no way to live. I have a right to stay safe and yet call this city my home with pride. They’ve taught me how to continue being a good human being. This empowerment has helped me decide to not resign myself to just calling Delhi disgusting. I’ve decided to focus instead on helping the fearful by working to make public spaces safer and teaching other women how to take necessary precautions while maintaining a degree of freedom.
Jocelyn Jose is the Program Executive at Breakthrough’s Delhi office.