We have raised questions in our heads, on Twitter and Facebook, and on the streets, about safety in Delhi and on a larger level, asked if India is safe (anymore) for women.
We have spoken the unspeakable truth about rape in India, we have tried long and hard to look at our values as a society, we have spoken up about the dark, silent nights of India, we have confessed that the safety protests in Delhi might not have gone right, and we continue to hope against hope that strict measures will be taken to punish the guilty and prevent such brutality in the future.
There is enough and more pessimism and anger out there (and within me, like within all of us), and as someone who continues to use New Delhi as a base and continues to be a proponent of solo travel in India, I believe we need to channel our aggression in the right direction.
We need to take our safety in our own hands, because even if we assume that after all these years, laws will be created and executed to ensure greater safety for women in India, it could be years before we start to see any real change or feel any safer walking on the streets. And we have to start looking at our own homes, because what we are fighting is a very fundamental flaw in our society.
While we continue to demand change, Delhi will only be as safe for us (women and men) as the effort we put into staying safe and fighting the fear. And here’s how I think we can do it:
1. Enroll in a self defense class.
Every Sunday in the month of January, Krav Maga India is offering free training sessions for women in Delhi. This is an Israeli art of self defense and I went for the session last Sunday; I have tried Karate and Muay Thai before (just tried!), but I realized that the techniques you learn in Krav Maga are much more practical for everyday life. It helps sharpen your instincts and make you more aware of your surroundings, as well as teaches you how to protect yourself in adverse situations, even from a bigger or stronger man. Krav Maga India also offers paid sessions for women and men throughout the year.
Venue: M-6, Basement ,Saket.- New Delhi
Time: 11-12 noon
2. Equip yourself with a defense weapon.
As per this story on what spurs potential attackers, carrying a pepper spray is a big deterrent, because you signify trouble. I’ve owned one since I moved to Delhi and it’s something I’ve been advocating as part of survival tips.
You can buy a bottle at any chemist store. I’ve recently found out that Stun Guns, which are essentially contact shockers, are also legal in India, though I’m yet to find a store that sells them (does anyone know of such a store?). A swiss knife or something sharp can be equally handy in distress. The important thing is to keep such a weapon accessible when you’re about to step out after dark, or walk along an isolated stretch. If you encounter trouble or your gut suggests that someone standing near you might be dangerous, quietly grab your weapon and stay prepared.
3. Don’t turn a blind eye on others in trouble.
I know that the state of the law and policing in India doesn’t exactly advocate helping one’s neighbor, but this interview might make you rethink all of that. Or this fictional story about a man who looked the other way. I often wonder what I’d do if I was passing or driving by someone who looked like she was in trouble with a group of men, or in need of help on a dark road. We have been so conditioned to not meddle in the matters of those who don’t affect us, that we’ve forgotten the value of a helping hand. The next time we spot someone in trouble, let’s do unto them what we’d have them do unto us; call the police, yell for help, put the pepper spray to use.
4. Stand up for what’s right, at home.
Unfortunately for us in India, misogyny begins at home, in our own educated urban homes and families. I’ve personally seen so many mothers who blindly dote on their sons, so blindly that nothing the son does can be wrong, so blindly that she warrants that other people treat her son like a king. Whether you’re the son or the daughter, it’s time to stand up and raise your voice for what’s right. The next time someone tries to put you down as the ‘inferior’ sex, speak out, lecture, revolt, do whatever it takes to make yourself heard. That’s the only way we can start changing the fundamentally flawed attitude of our patriarchal society.
5. Trust your gut.
It’s impossible to emphasize this enough. We all read and share golden rules like don’t walk alone on a dark street, or don’t accept an invitation to ride with someone you barely know, or don’t get lost texting while in an isolated space, or fork out a few extra bucks to take a cab late in the night, but how many of us really follow it? If travelling in India by myself has taught me something, it is that when your gut suggests that someone might mean trouble, they most certainly will. It’s better to be safe than sorry, always.
I’ve shared some of these thoughts on Twitter, and one person tweeted back saying that there’s something very wrong with a society where women need to learn self defense, and no one can deny that that’s true. And of course, the misogyny is not limited to India either. We have taken the first step by admitting that our society (among other things) needs to change.
While this change takes its course, we have two options – we can live in fear, because forget a dark street at night, we are not even safe in our own homes; as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 94.2% of rapes in India were inflicted by family / friends / neighbors or someone the woman knew. Or we can take charge of our own safety, and instead of asking whether it’s safe to travel in India and if New Delhi is safe for women, let’s ask if we have done everything we can to stay safe.
Featured image by Cia de foto.