Winds of change are blowing, but mindsets need a changing (One month after Dec 16 gang-rape)

There is more patrolling, a 24x7 helpline, promise of gender training of police, protests and what not. But ask any young unescorted woman on Delhi's roads whether she feels any safer a month after the Dec 16 gang-rape and the answer will be a sad "No".

A lot of women who had on the contrary managed to keep away the fear psychosis are now admitting to a sense of uneasiness on the roads after the gruesome incident.

I have been travelling at late hours ever since I came to this city six years ago: for my studies, and later for my work. It was just not concerned family members but also acquaintances who would paint scary descriptions of mis-happenings for a working woman living alone in the capital city of the country.

Everyone was eager to give dos and don'ts on how to be safe. However, I never felt afraid in any real sense, until Dec 16, 2012.

While all these years I perceived the 'war' to be at a distance, this incident was like a drone attack in my backyard.

Anger poured on the roads, several friends actually bearing the brunt of batons, while protesting at India Gate for promulgation of stronger anti-rape laws.

For me and many like me - a single working woman - there was a sense of helplessness that despite our education and economic independence we have to be afraid and scared to venture out at night.

We were told that education will empower us. But the Dec 16 gang-rape of the woman, who took tuitions to earn money to supplement her family's earnings for a better future, opened our eyes that nothing has changed for us.

Yes, there has been manifold increase in patrolling and it is reassuring, but there is another aspect to it.

Hardly a couple of days back, I was on my way home (I live in a women's hostel that now is home away from home) after watching a movie. I was accompanied by two friends, including a male.

Two patrolling policemen on a motorcycle came by and stopped in front of us. The policeman enquired from us what we were up to and also explained that it was out of a sense of "duty" that they had stopped.

I felt happy that the custodians of law were being alert. But then I realised that they were drunk. I could detect a faint slur in their speech and I could smell alcohol on them.

I wondered if we did not have male company, or had I been alone with a man, would their attitude been different?

There is a lot of talk about gender training for police, but it only makes me wonder what is the training given to them if they still have to learn how to deal with ordinary citizens.

Though I would admit increased police presence is a reassurance, is there a way to differentiate between the good and the not so good cops? On more than one occasion, I have had curious and sometimes rogue policemen approach me just because I was travelling alone at late hours, or alone in male company.

A crackdown has begun on auto-rickshaw drivers as well, but would it result in a change of attitude in men harking from cultures that don't treat women with respect? Yesterday morning, I realised there were fewer rickshaws on the road. The mystery was unfolded when an auto driver told me a lot of them were keeping off roads fearing a traffic ticket.

That was not all, he was infuriated with women who are no more ready to take a "No" from auto drivers. Can the traffic police change this attitude, a pure example of male chauvinism, that some auto drivers are offended because women are being assertive now?

A friend living in a working women's hostel informed me that curfew hours had been advanced to 9 p.m. Another one recounted how her mother "ordered" her to be home before it's dark, and how her insistence that she could not caused a major problem at her home.

But yet, there are some who insist that they want to stay out till late to give out the "We are not afraid" message.

Each one of them however agrees that while better law and order comes as a reassurance, a change in social attitudes is what is really needed.

Mindsets need change. And I think this will take some time. But the winds of change are blowing...and hopefully there will be a day when we women can travel the streets of Delhi alone without fear.

(16-01-2013-Anjali Ojha is a journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in)

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