New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Many more policemen but far fewer women. That's Delhi by night where insecurity has tightened its grip in the month since the gang-rape of a 23-year-old on her way back home from a movie and where women are cutting back on work and leisure because they are scared of travelling by public transport.
Never known to be the safest for women, India's national capital has become even more perilous since the Dec 16 incident, say women, who feel a heightened sense of vulnerability.
A long night drive along some of the city's roads showed up many more policemen but hardly any women. Travelling by motorcycle and by DTC buses along some of south and west Delhi's roads, including busy areas like Malviya Nagar and Vasant Vihar, this IANS correspondent did not see any women standing at bus stands or travelling by buses.
At about 10.30 p.m., a few women that this correspondent met were buying a few essentials from markets. The streets and bus stops were well lit but that did little to alleviate the sense of insecurity.
All admitted they were scared of taking public transport at night - buses or auto-rickshaws - and had changed their work timings in order to return home by 9 p.m.
But police were aplenty on the roads, manning barricades at every five kilometers, while others whizzed by on motorcycles or in Police Control Room vans.
"Despite the increased police presence at night, after the gang-rape incident, I now end my duty hours by 8.30 p.m. Earlier, it used to end at 10.30 p.m.," Neena Sahani, a 30-year-old company secretary, told IANS near the Malviya Nagar Metro station.
Asked why there were no women to be seen on buses, Sahani said most women take DTC buses at night only to travel short distances, not more than five kilometres.
"The young woman would not have been gang-raped if DTC ran more buses at night on this route. She waited for over 30 minutes for a DTC bus, and when none came by, she and her friend were forced to travel by the private bus which had no passengers," Sahani added.
It was about 9.15 p.m. when the 23-year-old boarded a private bus along with her male friend after failing to get a DTC bus. She was gang-raped by five men and a juvenile and tortured. She died on Dec 29 in a Singapore hospital where she was taken for specialised treatment.
Like Sahani, Mamta Kaushik, a 37-year-old nurse in Safdarjung Hospital, said she has changed late evening shift hours and now leaves for home at 8.30 p.m. She would earlier end duty at 10.30 p.m. and take a DTC bus or auto to her home in west Delhi's Jahangirpuri.
"I would take an auto-rickshaw if I missed my DTC bus. Now I call up my family and ask them to pick me up from the hospital if I am late. I am scared of taking autos and cabs at night after the gang-rape," she said.
According to a report quoting an Assocham study, call centres and IT companies in Delhi and neighbouring areas registered a 40 percent decline in productivity in the fortnight after Dec 16 and one of every three women employees either avoided work after sunset or had quit their jobs.
Ironically, many men say they too avoid travelling at night.
Satyendra Yadav, a young man employed at a printing press, was waiting at the Munirka bus stop from where the woman and her friend took the private bus Dec 16 night - and which has now become a shrine of sorts with posters and slogans.
Yadav said he now avoids travelling by private buses.
"I get free by around 11 p.m. and I end up missing the last DTC bus. Since the rape incident, I only take auto-rickshaws to go home but I first check to see if the driver is drunk or not," Yadav told IANS.
With him was Ravinder Mukherjee, a young resident of Shakurbasti in west Delhi.
"Every day I board a bus for home from the same stop where the gang-rape victim was picked up from. I know how agonising it is to wait for a DTC bus as its frequency is pathetic. It is tempting to take a private bus but I am scared."
Fear lurks but for how long? Delhi's citizens would love an answer.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)