When I first stepped outside London Heathrow Airport, I dreaded the cold weather and incessant rains. But, in many ways it was a relief from the overcrowded lanes, dusty roads and loud train stations of India.
As my country made headlines across the world revealing brutal crimes against women, I decided to explore the freedom that Britain had to offer me. My decision to study abroad at the University of Nottingham was highly influenced by the 16th December gang-rape in 2012 and its consequences.
My bubble of ignorance had burst and I saw India in a new light.
My bubble of ignorance had burst and I saw India in a new light. Life in Delhi had changed drastically for many women and I was one of them. It affected me because at the time the girl was raped, she was travelling with a male companion.
My decision to study abroad at the University of Nottingham was highly influenced by the 16th December gang-rape in 2012 and its consequences.
In India, women take many steps to be safe- one of them is to get the boys to drop you home. Usually, we feel safe in the company of our male friends. But her male companion was brutally beaten up. It was also only 9:30 at night- a time when me and my friends used to venture out of our homes to experience Delhi’s many clubs, restaurants, and pubs. Never before had I so deeply questioned my status as a woman in India than after that incident. That day changed my perspective.
Never before had I so deeply questioned my status as a woman in India than after that incident.
Now I thought twice about venturing out in the evenings, even as early as 6pm. While going to college, I would notice the men glaring at me in a lewd manner. I was pushed and groped in the Delhi metro. I noticed how some men would sit on seats reserved for women and refuse to get up when old ladies requested them to. I shuddered at the thought of using public transport.
While in metropolitan cities many women travel daily by local buses, in small towns like Agra you would only spot one or two. Despite being in a girls’ college, I abstained from wearing shorts and skirts to college as I feared travelling the narrow stretch between my accommodation and college in a rikshaw. I did not want to draw unnecessary attention to myself.
I feared travelling the narrow stretch between my accommodation and college in a rikshaw. I did not want to draw unnecessary attention to myself.
I wanted to hide my face when school boys took pictures of me without my permission in tourist spots in smaller towns. I could not understand why. I was dressed very modestly in jeans and a t-shirt. The harassment worsened when the boys decided to follow me and my family around the entire monument.
I could not understand why. I was dressed very modestly in jeans and a t-shirt.
When I came to Britain, the men here would offer to help me with my luggage and hold doors for me, and it reminded me of an incident in Delhi. I was carrying a heavy suitcase of 50 kg that I had to lift into the baggage scanner of the Delhi metro, and five men passed by ignoring my pleas for help. Finally, an elderly man helped me to lift it into the scanner.
I derived the most comfort though from the fact that none of the men here stared. They passed friendly smiles as opposed the salacious ones in India.
Adding to my happiness was that I could wear whatever I wanted and the only limitation was the cold weather. I did not have to worry about hailing a cab after a night out. In Delhi, my friends would be shocked if I announced plans of hailing a cab at night.
I did not have to worry about hailing a cab after a night out. In Delhi, my friends would be shocked if I announced plans of hailing a cab at night.
Many atrocities towards women like dowries, domestic violence, female foeticide, female infanticide, and acid attacks occur in India. Marital rape is still not a crime there. However, there are many Indians who are fighting for better treatment of women in my country. These include many men as well.
Awareness is being raised and the objectification of women in many Bollywood movies is now a much talked about issue in the media. Women’s organizations like CREA, Feminist India and Swabhiman are spreading awareness of women’s rights in rural and urban areas.
However, there are many Indians who are fighting for better treatment of women in my country.
The media is taking huge steps in this sphere by initiating social debates and campaigns. Web –based opinion platforms like www.youthkiawaz.com have given girls a chance to express their opinion towards misogyny and patriarchy in Indian society.
Almost every major magazine has published feature stories about the conditions of women in India. Features on the plight of rape victims and the inaction of the police are common. The Outlook Magazine lately featured an article about bold Bollywood actresses who are daring enough to break the Indian stereotype of women being shy, coy, and submissive.
Widely read magazine India Today published a cover story about the new class of Indian women who are willing to fight till they get their rights. University students all across India have conducted candle light marches for rape victims who succumbed to their injuries. There was massive media coverage of the One Billion Rising initiated by Eve Ensler in Delhi in 2013 and there are demands for introducing gender sensitization programs in schools.
The university students all across India have taken out candle light marches for rape victims who succumbed to their injuries.
Of course, there are plenty of Indian men who are chivalrous and respectful. All my male friends treated me with respect and went out of their way to drop me home after late nights. However, such men are a minority. Every country has its flaws, and unfortunately patriarchal attitudes towards women are the blemishes on the face of mine.
I hope that when I return after two years, there is a marked difference in the conditions of women in India. As for now, it’s been a year since 16th December 2012 and irrespective of the legal changes little has changed socially.