Each week, as Thursday draws to a close and Friday approaches, I do a quick mental recap of topics that have figured prominently in the news in those particular seven days and zero in on the one I will comment upon/research and write about. While environment and politics throw up several instances of newsworthiness, gender issues, women’s rights, incidents of violence against women abound and usually figure at the top of the list, with predictable regularity.
This week, in particular, I had no difficulty in narrowing down on the topic of the week.
Just yesterday, news came in about yet another incident of violence against yet another woman in the national capital, yet again. After Shraddha Walkar (who was chopped into pieces by her live-in partner) and Anjali Singh (who died after being dragged for several kms beneath a car driven by a bunch of allegedly drunk men), it was the turn of Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women.
Yes, you read that right. Maliwal, a Delhi government office-bearer, accompanied by her team, was molested and then dragged a few metres by a man in a car in front of AIIMS on the night of January 18 when she had stepped out to inspect the status of women’s security in the national capital.
This happened after a drunk man made lewd gestures at her, passed objectionable comments and then asked her to sit in his car. When Maliwal refused, he went away and then returned and did the same things again. Only this time, as Maliwal was reprimanding him, her hand got stuck in the car’s window as the drunk driver suddenly rolled it up.
For a short while, Maliwal says she thought she might meet the same fate as the hapless Anjali Singh. Luckily, a team member helped her retrieve her hand from the car window and she was unharmed. A 47-year-old man has been arrested in the case, according to reports.
What is it about Delhi and these frequent incidents of violence, harassment and molestation against women in that city? How does the capital of a nation pull off a repeat of such episodes with such uncanny regularity? What does this say about the rule of law (or lack thereof) in the national capital? Why is it that instead of setting benchmarks in women’s safety, Delhi shocks with one incident after another, each new one usually progressively worse than the previous? Do these ‘drunk’, ‘inebriated’, ‘apathetic’, plain violent men ever stop to think about their actions? Do they know there will be ramifications for them and their families? Do they even care?
After the incident, Maliwal said in a tweet in Hindi, “God saved my life. If the chairperson of the woman’s commission is not safe in Delhi, then imagine the situation.”
She could not have put it better. If the topmost office-bearer of the woman’s body in Delhi is not safe and could have been dragged and killed by a drunk driver intent on sexually-harassing/molesting her, one can only imagine the condition of an average woman in the city.
This incident takes me back several years to the time I used to work the graveyard shift in a Delhi publication. One winter night, around 12 am, as I was returning home in the office cab, with another colleague, who was in the front seat, I saw a dark-coloured sedan pull up parallel to my cab atleast thrice. There was a man in the driver’s seat, looking intently at my car; I could hear the tempo of loud music from his car.
Ten minutes later, as the office cab approached my home in west Delhi, I saw the same car, with the same driver in it again. This time, he was staring at me and making obscene gestures. There was no office security guard in my cab and I panicked, fearful about my safety. I asked the driver to hurry along but he did not pay much heed.
Each minute now seemed to pass painfully slowly and I was getting more and more apprehensive. When the cab driver did not understand the gravity of the situation yet again, I told him I think someone is following me. The driver was a man in his 20s and his reaction to this still haunts me. Nonchalantly, he asked me, “Yeh roz peeche aata hai kya? (Does he follow you daily/every night?)”
Dumbfounded, I asked him to drive faster but just then, spotted a PCR van a few metres ahead and made the driver stop. I had noted the make and number of the car and informed the police of the same. They took some time to listen to me, asked me where I am going and seemed a bit surprised when I told them the number of the errant vehicle.
After stopping next to the PCR van for a good 10-15 mins, I told the cab driver to take a different, roundabout route to my home. That night, as I finally entered my ground floor home and switched on the room heater, I realised the room felt much colder for some reason. It’s been over a decade since this incident and it still gives me the shivers.
Whenever I see or hear of violence against women in Delhi, I wonder what if a combination of luck and prescience had not come to my aid. How different things could have turned out to be….and how much of your safety on the streets of Delhi (particularly at night) boils down to being a matter of ‘good fortune’.
I was fortunate. A few months after that incident, I could leave Delhi and start a career elsewhere.
It’s high time women’s safety in Delhi stops being a matter of luck and circumstance. As quoted above, if you are not safe in the nation’s capital, it is not hard to imagine what dangers and hazards a common woman faces in the hinterland and the ‘lawless’ areas of our country, notorious for toxic masculinity, deeply-entrenched patriarchy, and non-existent redressal mechanisms for violations of women in any and all forms.