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So should we leave town?

india Updated: Jul 13, 2011 23:54 IST
Amrita Chatterji
Amrita Chatterji
Hindustan Times
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Dear Police Commissioner,

I read your emphatic recommendation that women should be accompanied by a “male relative or driver” if venturing outdoors at “odd hours” and that we women “can’t travel alone at 2 am and then say Delhi is unsafe” with a mixture of disbelief, amusement and sheer disappointment.

I don’t have a driver or a brother. I dare say thousands of other women in the city don’t either. So clearly by your own admission we aren’t safe. But whatever happened to the motto “Delhi Police — with you, for you, always”? For so many women in the city, venturing out at 2 am may be a function of necessity, not choice.

In the early years of my working life, when I was an “outsider” and a single working woman employed at a TV network, returning home in the wee hours of the morning was more the rule than exception. The same goes for the thousands of women employed in outsourcing operations, hospitality, health care, travel and aviation.

While employers are required to provide adequate protection by law, the police can’t wring their hands and plead helplessness to serve and protect those who work late hours. Besides, there may be many scenarios in which a woman may need to step out late, whether for leisure, work, travel or a medical emergency.

What about her security and safety then?

You also seem to think that since women are out partying at ‘odd hours’, they jolly well have to have a driver to chaperon them around. If not, then we’re just asking for trouble — the overused argument that reeks of patriarchal prejudice.

Surprisingly, you don’t seem to know the demographics of the city you are entrusted to protect, by first assuming that everyone has a driver (perhaps most of the ladies attending the Ficci function do) and second, that all women who live in Delhi enjoy the protective framework of a family.

The large number of young, educated women, who flock to the city from the rest of India to make a decent living, is a reality you don’t appear to be aware of. What do you say to a woman who may be from out of town, living on her own or with other female flatmates and has to travel to the airport at 2 am to make a 5 am flight or return from the railway station after a delayed train?

Perhaps your next advice will be that if you don’t have a driver, or male relatives, don’t live in this city.

Do women get hassled, mugged and raped abroad? Of course they do. Is there crime on the streets of London? Of course there is.

But should a high ranking police officer, whose every word and public engagement should reassure the citizenry and strike fear in the hearts and minds of those on the wrong side of the law succumb so timidly to a longstanding challenge? I think that’s a question I’d rather leave to you to answer.

(Amrita Chatterji moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1995 and has lived and worked in the National Capital Region (NCR) since. The views expressed by the author are personal)