Eight years ago, Josna Joseph, now 25, had moved to Delhi from Shimla because she wanted to be independent. Ironically, the city which was to fulfill her dreams has now curtailed her freedom. Today, reaching work from home and vice versa has become a daily fight for survival.
Joseph resides in Munirka’s DDA flats and leaves for her workplace at Gurgaon’s Iffco Chowk around 9.15am. Though it’s expensive, she takes an auto to the Hauz Khas Metro station every day.
Earlier she used to take a bus, but call it paranoia or plain caution, she has sworn to stay off buses after the December 16 gang-rape.
There’s a well-reasoned explanation behind her behaviour: Her home is near the bus stop from where the gangrape victim and her friend were picked up by the chartered bus in which the brutal crime took place.
She has another safety rule: Never travel alone to work. Which is why she and her colleague meet up at the station to reach Gurgaon where they work as travel content writers.
As a HUDA City Centre-bound Metro comes to a halt, Joesph and her colleague get into the women’s coach. Finding no empty seats, they move to a corner next to the separation between the general and the women’s coach.
Many men from the neighbouring coach stare at them openly, a few steal quiet glances now and then. The girls ignore them.
“Normally, I don’t take such things lying down. But after the rape incident, I feel as if people are taking advantage of the panic and doing such things for cheap thrills as they know they can get away with it. Recently, a man misbehaved with us in the Metro and I let it go. I knew the cops won’t support me. And if I had reacted, there was always the possibility of that man catching me alone and ‘teaching me a lesson’ as I take the same route every day,” she says.
“I wasn’t always this cautious,” Joesph says. She comes from the friendly and protected environs of a hill station and Delhi initially came as a shock to her. “You only get scared of the monkeys in Shimla,” she says.
Joesph, then 18, was subjected to vulgar comments, unabashed leering and inappropriate touching. Now these things have become a part of her daily life. She’s been chased by a group of men in a car when she was in college, and has been smacked on her lower back near the JNU campus last year by a biker.
And she works in a place considered one of the most unsafe for women in the country, perhaps even more than Delhi. That is why Joesph tries very hard to not stay in office beyond 6.30pm.
As she steps out of the office, she has to pass a patch she dreads the most — a dirt path shrouded in darkness with a six-foot high bush, where she and her colleagues find men lurking and even saw one touching himself once.
A few days ago, some men had even followed them. As the two girls reach the patch, they automatically pick up pace.
As Joseph steps into the Metro, her mother calls to know where she is. "She calls me several times. She has been scared since the gang rape.
And her one advice in case anything bad happens: Run, real fast — even if it’s a false alarm. It’s almost like one’s scared to have a daughter now," Joesph says.
The auto from the Metro station drops her near the main gate of her housing society. As she walks to her building, she passes by an alcohol shop, buzzing with louts and drunkards. Joesph walks fast.
"It’s frustrating as I can’t come to this market in the evening even if there’s no food in the house. There’s a deadline for everything."
Suddenly, Joseph tenses up. Patrolling vans with sirens blaring pass by; like they have every night since the December 16 incident, in intervals of half an hour. "This fear is like an epidemic; it has gripped people from all strata of society."
"But being aware, remembering faces, noting numbers — that’s what we should do. I’d rather not live in fear, I’d rather fight."
The various probes and their mandate
*JS verma panel to submit views soon
On December 23, the government hurriedly announced a three-member committee of jurists headed by former Chief Justice of India JS Verma to recommend changes to make anti-rape laws stronger.
The panel has received more than 60,000 suggestions and is expected to submit its report in 10 days. It is likely to go beyond rape laws and recommend implementation of gender justice laws and the steps needed to ensure respect for women.
*MHA to probe police inaction
The home ministry ordered a probe by its joint secretary Veena Kumari Meena into allegations that the police control room staff had reached late, was non-responsive and wasted time over jurisdiction.
Delhi Police had denied the charges but the home ministry had noted the police had conceded there were differences in the logs manually maintained by the police and the GPS-based computer logsheet. The inquiry report is expected to be submitted tomorrow at the end of the seven-day deadline.
*Mehra panel to fix responsibility
On December 26, the government set up a separate commission to identify the lapses and fix responsibility of the gang rape. The commission is being headed by former Delhi High Court judge, Justice Usha Mehra and has been given three months to submit its report.
Its report will have to be tabled in Parliament. The panel has sought information from the public about the incident and will accept suggestions on improving women safety in Delhi till January 18.
*Crime branch to probe allegations
Delhi Police’s crime branch will investigate into allegations of police laxity made by the 28-year-old friend of the physiotherapist.
He had alleged that three PCR vans had reached the spot where the victim and he lay but the police personnel kept fighting over jurisdiction. It took the police two-and-half hours to get them to Safdurjung Hospital, he had alleged.
"They (police) took me to Vasant Vihar police station where I was forced to lie on a stretcher for four days. I was helping them with investigation despite my broken leg and in the condition I was in," he had said.