Pinky is rushing through her chores. She leans to her right to peep out of the window while washing the utensils, then gets back to the scrub and soap — her hands picking up pace. She hastily arranges all the utensils on the rack and rushes out. “I am leaving, please shut the door,” she tells her employer in East of Kailash and sprints. “I got so late. I hate winters, it gets dark very early,” the 18-year-old domestic help says while hurrying down the stairs.
Pinky will soon get married. She has not met her future husband but is glad he is a class 3 government employee. She is happy because she will not have to work after marriage. She earns Rs 7,000 a month after working in five households, which she contributes to her family income. But stepping outside her home was not something she chose. “At least now I will not have to travel at odd hours and face uncomfortable situations. The world outside is not a good place,” she says.
For women like Pinky, who step outside their homes just to earn enough for their survival, it is more of a liability than choice. What makes things worse for them are their experiences outside their homes. Something as basic as getting home after finishing work was the single biggest challenge most women mentioned during their interaction with Hindustan Times.
Despite an uproar after the December 16, 2012 rape to make the city safer for women by taking several steps, including strengthening the transport system and increasing patrolling on the roads, most feel the situation has not changed.
While in big companies women get cabs with security guards to their doorstep, most women who work for small-time companies as security guards, parking attendants, at petrol pumps or as domestic helps depend on cheaper and unreliable modes of public transport such as shared autos and tempos. These operate from fixed points and are usually overcrowded and they have to switch over several times due to lack of connectivity. Some of them are completely dependent on the male members of their families to take them home.
“While heading home, I have to take a shared auto that starts from a fixed point at fixed hours. If I miss it, I have to wait for half an hour for the next one. To reach the stop, I cross a park where men are often seen consuming alcohol. Sometimes they even follow you,” Pinky says. “The second challenge is to get inside the overcrowded auto. Once a man asked me to sit in his lap and everyone started laughing. It was very embarrassing. I make sure I cover myself properly. Once I was pinched but I could not say anything. If I tell this to my parents, they will ask me to sit at home. I would love to but I know we are financially not very stable. How will my parents arrange money for our marriages?”
Pinky wishes there were some woman-only autos for people like them. It would be so much more comfortable,” she says.
Seven kilometres away from here at a mall in Saket, smartly dressed in uniform and a baton tucked in her belt, Laxmi guides cars inside the parking lot. She loves her work as she feels it is position of responsibility and power. The only time she feels vulnerable is when she steps out of the mall to get back home.
“Earlier I used to take the bus but once on my way to the bus stand around 8 pm, two bikers passed dirty comments at me. I ignored the first time, but it happened again. After that day, my husband comes to pick me up every night. That night I looked around for police to complain but I could not find anyone,” Laxmi says.
Walking through dark stretches at night with no policemen in sight, especially during winters, is a huge challenge for women. The police under their safe city project mark and map all vulnerable and poorly lit stretches every week. But streetlights are not up due to lack of coordination between agencies.
“Our PCR vans make rounds and notes the poorly lit stretches. The report is sent to the authorities, urging them to fix streetlights,” a police official said.
Suman Rohila, a nurse at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, has devised ways to work her way around problems. For her, unlit streets and drunken passengers are the two biggest concerns as she has to travel to work late at night or early in the morning. “I have to walk to the bus stop, a 10-minute walk away. There are no streetlights on the way. I usually ask my husband to accompany me to the bus stop,” she says. Rohila travels by DTC buses only. “I never take private buses. God knows where will they take me. But even in DTC buses, drunk men manage to get on and misbehave. Once such an incident happened and no one came to my aid. I had to tell the driver to get the man off the bus,” she recalls.
At times, staff members or attendants of patients come in drunk and create a ruckus at the hospital at night. Some have verbally assaulted her and even tried to touch her inappropriately. “But, over the years, I have learnt how to deal with such men,” she says.