Safety first, they teach kids in the rest of the world. Not here.
We can’t guarantee safety in our big cities, small towns, or anywhere in between. Bombay was long highlighted as the oasis in the middle of the baby-killing misogyny that was India... But no longer. Delhi has never pretended to be other than it is, at least. You let your guard down in this city at your own peril. A psychiatrist told me around the time of the infamous December gang rape, that you can call someone a psychopath if he/she represents a small percentage of a society, but what of the brutality that is representative of a larger part of society? Say 20-25 per cent? What then?
So this is where we are. We tighten the bubble of privilege as best we can. We can’t stop pedophiles – predators often known to us, lurking in our own families – but we can talk about nanny-cams and 24 hour CCTVs in our children’s playschools and schools. We can’t stop crimes against women, but we can outrage, stage candlelight vigils and talk endlessly about how women need to be more careful. Tight jeans, falling asleep in cabs, drinking (god forbid!), and not being ever-paranoid and constantly vigilant. We talk endlessly about how the state has failed us, our systems have failed us, our cops have failed us. Our boys have failed us. Let’s face it, we’ve failed ourselves.
We have the swagger of a big city, but the heart and soul of a crumbling town. We have the high-brow agenda – we want to be a smart city, and whine about free Wi-Fi not being omnipresent, but can’t ensure the basics. Not clean air, not food for everyone, not shelter for the over one lakh homeless, and definitely not the wherewithal to ensure the safety of women. We ignore the disparity between the haves and have-nots and scoff at the whiffs of conservative attitudes that reach us in our fancy, gated communities.
Attitudes don’t change overnight, no. Do we want to “sensitise”, starting in schools across the city that boys and girls deserve the same respect and equal treatment? That might take some hard work. Do we need to ensure that our schools actually function? Or is that a problem that doesn’t affect PLUs (people like us)?
Systems don’t magically set themselves up. Do we want to demand verification of drivers, do we need to hold our service providers accountable for their employees? Or should we just – as some are already threatening – ban radio cabs? Never mind that there is no efficient and safe alternative, either! Do we want the deterrent of swift punishment? Of course! But what will that take, I mean, besides endless tweets and FB posts and conversations?
Should we demand our elected representatives be accountable – instead of making all the right noises after a horrific crime, and running to India Gate, if the media crews are there, standing by? How so? Should they be looking to see who gets it right? Which cities have high standards of safety for women? How do they ensure it?
According to this, we’re worse than Saudi Arabia and way worse than Canada – what is Canada doing right, anyone in power care to check? Politicos, I’m looking at you... but journalists too. Where are the pressure blocs? Apart from covering the “watershed moment” that was the December gang rape, and tracking that trial and the (unhealthy) baying for blood? In this Uber driver case, yes, the police have been able to nab him. But what happens in the next case? When the next perpetrator decides it’s more prudent to kill his victim or brutalise her to such an extent that she can’t identify him?
Let’s acknowledge “we” cannot keep women safe everywhere – you can’t police our homes, for one, and domestic violence is a ghastly truth we talk about only sporadically. We can ensure that our streets are well-lit, that the police pickets have actual active cops at the barricades (whether that means better paid cops, is for us to decide), that our public transport is efficient and accountable – that involves again, not being able to bribe your way out of trouble if you don’t have an NOC. That involves not bribing someone to look the other way if you’re employing someone who faces criminal charges, who is awaiting trial? But then how black does the pot look to the kettle, when you look at our elected representatives? Or should we save hypocrisy for another time?
We need to ensure that the damn system works. It’s not enough that the more and more privileged conclude the *only* way to be safe is to ensure your bubble is air-tight – “You need to get a car and driver,” I’m told, more often than not. I may have graduated from daily autos to bi-weekly radio cabs, but it’s just been brought home to me, there’s no such thing as a paranoid girl in the capital. “I need to get my own car,” I think to myself, because at the end of the day, I’m the only one who cares about – and is indeed responsible for – my own safety.
It’s clear that this city-state we live in – outrage or no – just doesn’t give a damn.
PS: Another sign of the city’s indifference – the Sakha cabs women drivers’ service has to be discontinued, news reports say, because the Delhi government hasn’t paid Rs 5 lakh of back dues.