This was long before Delhi was unofficially declared the rape capital, when I had my little princess. The daughter I wanted so badly. My pride, my heart and my soul, all turned into a bundle of 2.6 kg, given to me wrapped in a white towel. Her face shining like a bright light, her brown eyes trying to connect faces to voices that she had been hearing in the womb. I remember waking up in the nights to ensure she was warm, covered and peacefully sleeping. Spending hours looking at that face of innocence, committing to myself that I’ll never let anything happen to her. That I’ll save her from everything.
But today, in the wake of the surmounting crimes against girls, I feel insufficient, numb and helpless. I know that no matter how much I prepare her to mistrust, distrust, care or follow rules, the truth is that life for her is going to be a lot more challenging than what it was for the girls of my generation. It isn’t just about freedom anymore, it is now about surviving. I keep wondering if wanting a daughter was even the right thing to do in these times.
When she was born, I was already a mother of a 6 year old boy. And while my love for my son wasn’t any less, the societal views that he was a boy had changed my concerns over his safety into some sort of self assurance. I remember being worried about his safety but not being obsessed about it as much. Which I realised later, was a wrong outlook because when it came to abuse of any kind, no gender was safe.
Fables and Fairy Tales Have Ruined The Concept Of Women Empowerment
Most crimes are targeted towards girls because they are perceived and looked at as objects of pleasure (a big thanks to item songs)! Be it our fables or fairy tales, the most used adjectives for girls are only about how they look or how they make men feel.’ Such misogynistic attitudes make them far more vulnerable and susceptible to sexual abuse than their counterparts. Uttar Pradesh and Haryana may be ahead of us in patriarchal mindsets but we in Delhi give them a good fight when it comes to treating our girls the same way.
This all leads to such a dichotomy for us parents in Delhi and NCR because we want to give wings to our children while also curtailing them. There is an air of entitlement, clouds of pollution, road rage, acid attacks, huge social divide, rapes of children, dearth of civic values and in general a hate for other human beings who are out to take our jobs, our space on the road or in queues.
The Law is never a deterrent
The law is never a deterrent because the chances of one serving a term after twenty years of legal battle are as grim as the chances of someone even being convicted. So we try to protect our little ones, who we are still teaching the ‘Moral tales of Panchtantra,’ telling that a good deed gets reciprocated by another good deed, giving them tinted glasses to look at this ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’ world. The world that is past any remorse or sensitivity at the hurt and pain of other human lives.
I am sure the situation may be different, better or worse in other cities but there is a reason why Delhi is called the ‘Rape capital’ and why we living in it for generations know it’s not an exaggeration by any chance. I wanted to understand how Delhi has changed me after I’ve become a parent and as my son sometimes put it. ‘Mom, you’re over reacting’ and my response always is ‘Am I?’ Which is why I pondered on some points to understand why we parents are as cynical as our children think we are.
Safety on the roads and Streets
Being out on the highway, ring road, small road, service lane or even inside a colony is plain dangerous. People here don’t give two hoots to law, traffic rules or other people’s right on the road. They drive while texting or talking when behind the wheels. I am sure you too must have seen the adventure riders driving fast on their two wheelers with lifted shoulders and tilted heads ( you can’t hold the phone while driving a two wheeler so the shoulder and the tilted head work as the hands free) having the most important conversations of their lives because they are ready to lose theirs or others lives for that crucial talk!
Drunk driving, jumping signals, the three teenagers on one bike zig-zagging without helmet is a common site, pedestrians crossing without looking in the direction of the oncoming traffic is another dimension to the already complicated and exhausting driving atmosphere.
Confrontations are worse. Shooting/ abusing/ or even killings over minor scratches on cars or bikes are common. Now, in such an angry, blood-hungry atmosphere, how do we teach our children to cope and manage? They are surrounded and surely outnumbered by people who are either high on power, money or connections.
Attitude towards girls/women
The northern part of India is infamous for its narrow mindedness and conservative attitude towards girls. And the reason is simple. Most of them see the specific gender roles in their houses where women are submissive and are dominated on. Where boys take decisions and women follow. Where gender roles are so intrinsically woven in the minds of its inhabitants that they believe this is the only right way to treat or to be treated. Women, who raise their voices are always blamed for being too free, too outspoken or too modern, and these followers of patriarchy shamelessly indulge in victim shaming if something goes wrong. They believe that it is a woman’s fault if they are teased, stalked or even raped.
Watch this shocking report from The quint on rising rapes in Haryana
The results of these mindsets are for every one to see. Ten rapes in ten days in Haryana in January, numerous public stalking and murder cases across Delhi, ‘Dhaula Kuan rape case’ ‘Jigisha ghosh case ,or Nirbhaya case, all stemming from this city of misplaced attitudes and ‘male entitlement’.
What does it mean for us parents?
It means, high blood pressure and constant worry for when our girls are out. Even when they are going with friends, we warn them to behave responsibly, to avoid negative attention. To make sure that their clothes are not too short, transparent or even sleeveless. We have to remind them to be back by 6 or 7 so they are not considered easy or are abducted by men in cars. The rising trends of raping little girls has given nightmares to all parents and we can’t let them be out of sight even for a few seconds. We know that no ‘good touch’ or ‘bad touch’ knowledge is sufficient to get them saved from maniacs on Delhi roads because these men have no fear of the law or the police.
Distrust for all
Delhi has taught us well to distrust all, irrespective of their social standing, background or education. We know people are Not. To. Be. Trusted. I remember while growing up, children of my generation were free to go to our neighbour’s houses, play outside for hours, visit cousins and relatives without parents. Basically be carefree, which is a luxury we can’t provide to our children. In Delhi, we don’t trust any one. Starting from neighbours, shopkeepers, vegetable sellers, doctors, teachers, coaches to every stranger on the road. We are taught to distrust unless proven otherwise.
When my daughter was born, some people from the transgender community came to sing and dance. A sort of happy event where they sing and the family gives them some money, sort of pourboire. But this group came at a weird time of 8 in the night, which was suspicious since their usual time is 4 or 5 in the evening. My husband didn’t open the door and asked them to come the next day at a better time and went to the balcony.
After a few seconds, one person from the group of three asked for a glass of water from my mother in law. She, in all her trusting nature filled three glasses of water, put them in a tray and opened the door, only to be pushed inside. That’s when at least 10 people forced their way in. They snatched whatever they could from us and ran in 10 minutes. I shudder at the thought about all that could’ve happened that day.
The result? Nobody in our house is allowed to open the doors or offer water to anyone, even if that person is genuinely thirsty or needs some help. This is only one incident, I’ve heard hundreds. As someone who’ve been born and brought up here, I know what being in Delhi entails for us now that we are parents. My son and daughter are instructed to not talk to anyone when alone. A habit which we had to reinforce every other day.
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Traffic And The ‘Entitled’ clan
When it comes to traffic, Delhi can be a leader and can also easily compete with Bangalore, another messed up city in terms of road management. The traffic in Delhi is one of the worst in the World. All modes of transport of varying speeds, vying for the same congested space on the roads, leading to huge traffic jams almost every few hours at all places. The number of vehicles on the road is insane and ever increasing. People cutting you in your lane, overtaking you, taking a turn without indicators, jumping signals or sudden pedestrians are some given when driving on Delhi roads.
There is a spectrum of social classes in Delhi. People who are powerful, filthy rich or ‘well connected’ and hence they don’t care for the law. And then there are those who are socially marginalised, live in peripheries, have no real work, many of them indulging in odd crimes and hence don’t care for the law.
Both the groups from the ends of the spectrum make living for middle class, extremely edgy. One needs to be equally vigilant about the bikers who can snatch mobiles, chains or purse or those who can mow you down under their BMWs, Audis or even buses .
Now, when our children are on the same roads as these people, we have every right to be crazy, worried or concerned. No matter how many times we have taught them to look down, say sorry and move on because their lives are more important than their self righteous attitudes, we still get dead worried that they don’t get into an argument with wrong people.
Now those of you who think that their cities are as bad as Delhi in crime and road rage, brace yourself because you can never match the capital of India when it comes to air quality. The last few years have been nothing but a gas chamber for Delhi and we as parents not only have to protect our children from abusers and rapists but also deal with their physical problems which gets aggravated because of all the pollutants in the air. It is heart wrenching that we stop our children from going out because of dangerous elements lurking in the surrounding and we also can’t provide them safe breathing air in the confines of our homes.
The ‘encroached and stinking’ roads
I understand that there are only limited places in India which can be called ‘clean’ i.e Sikkim or Kerala, and most of our cities are filthy and over populated. Yet, Delhi takes the cake for being one of the dirtiest capitals in the world. As per WHO’s list of dirtiest cities in the world, at least 8 of our cities appear on a list of 17 dirtiest cities, Delhi being one of the prime contenders.
The pavements and footpaths are all encroached by shopkeepers or vendors. The open sewers and drains are death invitations. People spit, sleep, make temporary shed houses on pavements, subways or under metro pillars. The road is ever narrowing down as the rickshaws, e-rickshaws, autos and extra cars are parked all around. As a parent, this means that we, as parents have to make sure that when we are walking on the roads, we or our child is not crushed or falls in the open gutter. We have to make sure that our little girls don’t see people openly peeing on any wall. We have to make sure that we carry a hanky to cover our mouths when going in a rickshaw because the stench of filth and pee can make anyone puke.
Many of you would argue that this is the case in all the cities and not just in Delhi. To them, all I can say is that I agree with you, we all have become dead in our civil societies. We’ve neither been able to impart sensitivity, nor compassion. There is no outrage on better laws, better road sense or instilling civic values. Bigotry, Misogyny, entitlement and fake beliefs are rampant. We are happy being a third world country because of our ancient outlooks and stinking beliefs about girls.
To those who would argue that no country is safe and such crimes happen everywhere, the answer would be: That’s a lame argument just for the sake of it. I have seen girls out in Mumbai, Kerala, Bangalore, in most European countries but the north India is the last place which can be trusted with an unaccompanied girl in the night, even with their fathers, brothers, husbands or partners, they are rarely safe. Which is why as soon as the sun starts to set and the evening skies engulf the sun, just like birds, the girls all return and stay inside their homes while their parents wonder if wanting a daughter was the right thing to do.