The recent killing of Delhi University student Radhika Tanwar reminds us of the insecure circumstances under which women lead their lives. It brings to the fore the urgency of a dialogue that addresses our reaction to these tragic but frequent occurrences.
A recent conversation with a young cancer survivor revolved around the all too common late detection of the disease in urban women. She made an interesting observation: she believed that women were conditioned to accept pain as part of the female experience.
That pain was normal, from the instance of the first period to child bearing. Hence this mute acceptance till it is too late.
It is no great revelation that certain pre-determinates, social and biological, govern the female experience. Women are advised to circumvent these roadblocks and live a life of least resistance. But what is most alarming is how certain attitudes and ‘common wisdom’ threaten the emancipation of women.
The violence Delhi reserves for its female citizens is disturbingly consistent. There is a trust deficit in the female experience and justifiable outrage at the city’s policing. When the echo of Delhi being unsafe for women crescendos into a widely accepted truth, women in this city must take a serious look at their place in a modern, functioning society.
While demanding answers from the government and civic authorities, what is of equal importance is the role we choose to play as architects of our social and professional experience.
This is not the time to accept the status quo and give in to the city’s much-reviled reputation. Our vindication lies in effecting change. It does not repose in locking our doors, dressing ‘appropriately’ so no one says we asked for it, and cutting back on our necessary movements as some public service announcements suggest.
It lies in resisting this fear psychosis that abounds in us.
The change has to come to the police and basic civic facilities, some as simple as better street lighting. But then the change must also come to schools, where gender roles are fostered and eve teasing tolerated.
In offices, where female employees don’t make up the numbers and hence have no voice. In homes, where brothers are permitted their professional and personal dreams and sisters aren’t. On streets where passersby ignore a bleeding woman and witnesses turn hostile.
We are at risk of falling prey to another sort of conditioning — that of being unsafe in our city, in our society. We are at risk of providing those in public service a convenient scapegoat — the city — when there is another Radhika or Sowmya or Jessica.
As the list grows, we are at risk of losing names to numbers. Being unsafe is not normal, it’s not an acceptable truth, and we must not let anyone tell us that.
(Advaita Kala is the author of Almost Single. The views expressed by the author are personal)