I was never daunted by stories of women being abducted or molested because I had my own ideas on how to keep myself safe in Delhi. And I believed (like every girl who grew up in the Delhi of the 1970s), in the Delhi Police. And because I had this unshakable faith in the policemen, I continued taking autorickshaws late at night.
That changed one night in July. It was past midnight when I got into an auto and headed for East Delhi. Approximately half-way through at the ITO bridge, shortly after we crossed the Delhi Police Head Quarters, four young men travelling in a car started hooting at me. The car's windshield was dense black, the windows were down and, at least, one of the occupants was only in his underwear. The rest were in various stages of undress and all had beer bottles. They would overtake my vehicle and park on the left so that we were forced to pass them. Then again, they would overtake. This went on for the next two-and-a-half kilometres.
We turned towards the Shakarpur Road and spotted a PCR van. The villains sped away.
When I spotted a grey-haired policeman, I was even more reassured even though a policeman's age should not have made any difference to my sense of security. So I got off, auto-driver in tow, to tell him about the incident. His first question was how I could be certain that they were chasing and harassing me? The auto-driver backed my story. Next question: "Are you sure you wrote his registration number correctly and why did you write it anyway?" Then he asked me to leave my number and they would "see what we could be done". So I told him, the men had driven ahead on the same road that I needed to take to get home and they might well be waiting for me round the next corner. "Could the PCR accompany me to the next intersection?" I asked.
"Madam, abhi to hum chai pi rahen hai, aap jao kuchh nahin hoga (we're busy having our tea, you carry on, nothing will happen to you)."
That was the last time I took an auto home late at night confident that the Delhi Police would protect me.
Nearby, there was a group of autorickshaw drivers waiting for late-night passengers: five of them escorted me all the way home. None of them accepted money for the ride. "We have mothers and sisters at home," each one said. Incidentally, though this is not the point of this piece, I think my rescuers were migrants.