That girl on the bus

I looked up from my books only when the librarian began to make shooing noises. About time anyway, I thought. My head was aching, my eyes burning and my body exhausted by all the last minute cramming. Quickly putting my papers together I picked up my denim backpack. At 17, heading off to college, I’d wanted a new backpack, just like I had at the beginning of every school year. It was covered in graffiti; lyrics from songs by Metallica, Sepultura, Anthrax, Iron Maiden and decorated with graveyards, skulls, all drawn by my brother and my friends. So that I didn’t miss them too much, they said.

I’d stayed on in the library after classes and most of my regular companions had left much earlier. For once I would have to take the bus alone and as I walked out I realised with a shock that it was dark. It was early spring and the weather unpredictable. I looked at my navy churidar, thin white kameez and chiffon dupatta; woefully inadequate once the sun set and the chill came in. I loved this particular hand embroidered kameez, more so because Ma had embroidered if for me.

Wrapping the dupatta tightly around me I hurried to the bus stop and caught my regular bus pretty soon. I soon got a seat and settled into a corner, my bag arranged over my chest protectively, to avoid roving hands. I’d been awake all night studying and then up early in the morning for college, very short on sleep. The bus rattled on and I gave in to my fatigue, fading in and out of sleep.

I woke up to find myself in a strange part of town. Obviously I’d slept through my stop, I realised in horror. Getting off at the next bus stop I began to to make inquiries about getting home. This was in the good old days when blue lines and chartered buses ran in equal numbers. The only way to ensure you were getting on to the right bus was by listening carefully to the conductor rattle off the route, none of which sounded like anything on earth unless you paid close attention.

India Gate, I asked him? He nodded. I hopped on. I had very little money on me and I couldn’t afford the indulgence of an auto every time it got late.

By now it was really late and dark and I had no fucking clue as to where I was. My head began to ache more. The bus trundled down unfamiliar roads and I felt the panic rise. This was not the age of cell phones. My parents, far away in a small town, saved every rupee to send me to the best college in the country. My brother would start college next year and money was scarce. We couldn’t afford daily long distance calls and if I got lost, no one would know I was missing for a long, long time. I used to be the praying kind in those days, and so I prayed.

Soon the bus did turn on to a road I was familiar with. Vaguely.

And then I realised my mistake. In my nervousness I had only asked the conductor if it passed India Gate. I hadn’t clarified which end of the huge circle I needed to be. And anyone who has lived in Delhi and is familiar with the area will know what a walk that would mean.

The crowd had thinned out and then before I could even decide what to do, the bus turned off into one of the radials. Collecting my belongings and my wits, I walked up to the conductor and asked him where it was off to. Why, its regular route of course, he said. This is where the depot lay and where it would terminate.

Oh, my face fell. I needed to be on the other side of India Gate. By now it was 9 pm and the streets were deserted. I could get off and walk, I thought. Except that it was cold and dark and my lack of sense of direction was legendary.

Why not wait, said the conductor. ‘We have to sign in at the bus depot and show that we completed our route in time. After that we will drop you home.’

It’s a testament to how young, innocent, tired, desperate and foolish I was, that I agreed nervously. It seemed like a better option to walking back down the lonely road in the dark, not knowing which was the correct radial to take to go back home, encountering all sorts of people on the road.

They stopped at the bus depot and got off to do their official business. I sat on the first seat, a stone statue. I began to count every mistake I’d made since the day began. From getting little sleep, to studying too late in the library, to dropping off because of exhaustion. Yes, victim blaming usually begins at home.

Around me was darkness. A few other buses were parked in the dark. Rough voices shouted out to each other. I held back my terrified tears. The conductor’s head popped in the door and asked, Would I like some tea; it was a cold night.

‘No thank you, I don’t drink tea.’ I really didn’t want to offend him but I wasn’t allowed to drink tea while growing up and hadn’t grown into the habit after leaving home.

Ah, you must be a Christian, he said sagely.

H-h-how did you guess, I managed.

Because Christians don’t let their children get into tea-coffee habits, he pronounced.

And then he walked off and got himself and the driver a cup of tea. While they drank it they chatted with me about what I was studying and where I was from. He told me about his daughter, also doing her BA so that she could better herself. She too often had to travel back alone from college. Considering I was at their mercy to get home, I couldn’t think of any other polite option so I kept up my end of the conversation.

They finished their tea, paid up and then true to their word, drove me not just to the street I lived on but as close to my residence as the bus was allowed.

I got off the bus, my knees weak with relief and waved them goodbye.

Years later a much older girl got on to a bus on a busy Delhi street, at around the same time of night. She was with a companion, yet she got brutally raped and died.

She shouldn’t have been out so late they said. They shouldn’t have got on to a chartered bus they said. They shouldn’t have stayed on the bus when they realised there were no other passengers, they say.

I’ve spent a lot of the last month fighting these battles online. Trying to do everything I can to spread awareness. To stop the victim blaming. Because as a wise woman once said, when you blame the victim, you are defending the rapist.

Have you ever looked at it that way? Every time you think she should have avoided going out late, she should have taken an auto, she should have, she should have, she should have, you’re missing the point. It’s not what she should have. It’s what he SHOULDN’T have.

SHE and WE are just regular women trying to make our way in the world. We’ve all been educated by our parents in the hope that we’ll make something of ourselves. We work the same hours and then carry the same weary bodies back home on the same crowded buses that men do. The only difference is the way in which we hold our bodies. Arms folded against our chests, heads down, bag held defensively.

We all have the same series of events leading up to bad days. Late nights, working too hard, long days, missed buses and exhaustion that leads to us making that one mistake. Getting off at the wrong place, getting on the wrong bus, trusting the wrong people. Sometimes the only difference lies in that one mistake, taking that day from simply bad, to fatal.

The truth is, we can’t just sit home now. We’ve tasted freedom and independence, and we’re hooked. We’ve come too far to turn back now. We can’t live our lives cowering in fear. We cannot be stifled or restricted. We cannot be sheltered any longer. If I must live my life in fear and depend on my husband or brother to take me out, I shouldn’t have wasted my time getting an education. I should have just stayed home and stuck to cooking and cleaning. Why this false sense of equality where education is concerned when we can’t take that education and equality and make something of it? When we’re constantly being chaperoned or else at risk?

I urge you all, don’t stay home in fear. Step out. Fill the streets. Let them know they can’t push us back in. Let them grow used to seeing us out and about. Make it safer for yourself as well as the other girls simply trying to get home. From office, from a club, from hospital, from the airport. We’re living the same lives that men are. We have a right to the same safety they have. They just don’t want to see it yet. Someday they will.

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67 thoughts on “That girl on the bus

  1. Hugs, MM. You’ve put it down so well. Don’t we all have such stories to tell? We all do. We did all sorts of (in hindsight) foolhardy things, and survived. Thrived, even, in a manner. What sets us apart from the unfortunate woman? What did she do wrong that we didn’t? When I ask myself this, I have no answer.

    There comes a time in a woman’s life when she fears not for herself, but for her offspring. Even when we know that this fear is unreasonable, that the person who suffers has not done anything different from what the person who has had a near escape has done, it still lingers. And comes home to roost.

    As Shilpa Phadke has put across so wonderfully in their book Why Loiter?, the onus has to be taken up by the powers that be to provide for a safe environment. Until then, fear will have a home in our hearts, no matter how unreasonable.

    • But they weren’t really foolhardy were they? They were just the only option we had….

      Shilpa is a fantastic writer and a woman I respect a lot. I have to pick up her book.

  2. Amen, MM!
    I gotta say, you were lucky that night. As Sandhya, says in the earlier comment-we have put ourselves in precarious situations and got lucky. Real lucky. I think of my life in Delhi as a young woman living alone-there were countless instances…I shudder when I think of them now. It could have been me.

  3. Dear Mad Momma,
    That was brilliantly written. We have all been brainwashed to find faults in our actions and blame ourselves. Parents/family tend to think that they have no choice but to brainwash us in this manner in order to protect us. We should be more careful. We should not travel alone after dark. But what does one do when they do not have a choice. I live in Karachi, Pakistan and what does one do when one has to work late (which is usually the case as office leaving timings range between 8 pm and midnight and sometimes even later). Alt times colleagues/friends follow you home but how many nights a week can you expect people to go out of the way for you. Have no choice but to drive home alone at night. Keep getting told its unsafe so does that mean we stop working..stop living. And God forbid if something happens, it will be my fault in the eyes of the world as I was out alone at such an unsafe hour. *sigh!*

    • The problem is they’re right in a certain way. It’s not safe because women are not usually out at that time. But it becomes a vicious cycle. If we don’t make it a common sight, how will it ever be safe?

  4. Amen to that.
    When reading your story, I was reminded of my own. I was fourteen and took the school bus (it was a private transport co) home from tuition quite often, whenever it got late. That was when they would be taking the bus back to the garage. Naturally I was all alone. It’s only when my mother flipped when she heard about it (a very casual mention about how so-and-so Uncleji is so sweet about dropping me home so often) that I realized that I was putting myself in danger. And this is a pattern I’ve repeated throughout my life. I trust easily. Or I used to, at any rate.
    And yet I am here, and that girl, just a year younger than me, coming back after watching a movie I went to watch alone barely three days before her, isn’t.
    Like you said, I won’t stop going out. I won’t stop living my life the way I want to, the way I have every goddamn right to. I’m not ceding one single square inch of hard-fought for space. In this hope that things would change. They have to.

    • 14? Phew! Thank God she heard you mention it in conversation. I think one of the first rules we have to learn as women, is to always let someone know where we are/where we’re going/with who we are.

  5. I dont know where to start. I dont know when it all started – when did I instinctively started dodging unkown hands seeking me in a packed bus, started covering myself with a duffel bag / purse in a crowded market to ward that accidental brushing. I dont know when my parents started asking me to wear something to cover my legs…I dont remember, I dont want to remember… Now, I go home at 8.30 pm from office, I’ve started from the same mall at a time later than 10 pm, have moved out in a rage from a shopping expedition after a fight with the better half at 9 pm…Yes, I have been lucky…just plain lucky to have reached home on all these occassions – unharmed, in one piece. Every single day that I step out and come back safe is a prayer answered.
    I cannot imagine the heart-in-the-gut feeling you would have had during that evening.
    I just wish to live life, not as a miracle for survival…

  6. Stop blaming the victim….that’s what I have been telling everyone around me. It is high time we stop telling our girls how to behave, when to return home,,,,,instead please teach our boys to be more respectful to women.

  7. very very true. Why should she have not got into the bus, a means of transportation, a service provided for her ? It could have been very early morning instead of 9:30PM, chances are there still would be few people. Why should she have to take a decision based on that to go from Point A to B ?
    Have not lived in Delhi but have rode late buses in Cal and Mumbai, in autos in B’lore. Many a times I was the last or the last but one to get down. Many others did the same. There was nothing brave in doing so, only natural. At that age, I also had an uncanny faith on the bus drivers and conductors, more than on my fellow passengers.
    If I am honest I will admit that now that I am a Mother and seeing such incidents on the rise I will panic at the prospect of my daughters taking a late bus. But I don’t want to do that, don’t want to be afraid just because it is my daughter taking the last bus or train or a lonely road.. God, give me the courage and faith.

    • Hi Bong Mom, the point is that Delhi is different. Trust me. I have lived in all the four metros and Bangalore. Violence against women happens everywhere. But Delhi guarantees it.

  8. I was so scared for you, girl. But that you can turn this story into a message for the world is a testament to your will: to keep at it until someone listens, regardless of the exhaustion and backlash and indifferent responses you will have to face. That you keep trying, sore in the throat, blue in the face, but with determination in your spirit, is what makes you the person you are–one who won’t sit by and let injustice happen but will raise her voice as long as her breath propels her. Well done.

  9. MM this one touched me in a way you might not have directly planned. It was probably just a function of the day I was having but I found the kindness of the bus driver faith-affirming in the deepest sense. Not in a foreigner-sees-the-fuzzies-in-India way: I’ve lived away a long time now but hope I still have a decent understanding of my own culture. I hope you share many, many more stories of how people OUGHT to behave and DO behave even as you raise your voice and others’ hackles in your quest to propagate common bleeding sense (thank you for that, BTW).
    You were the final element that inspired ‘A baggie full of spoons’ here: http://silverliningscloudydays.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-baggie-full-of-spoons.html/

    I hope I quoted and linked to you correctly. Not sure of trackback (or whatever) etiquette in the blogosphere.

    • “I hope you share many, many more stories of how people OUGHT to behave and DO behave even as you raise your voice and others’ hackles in your quest to propagate common bleeding sense (thank you for that, BTW).”

      … what I meant when I said “you’re the best, MM!”
      Thanks for providing the words, Chandreyee.

  10. My heart was thumping in my chest. Glad to know you were safe. But how naive our younger selves were! This reminded me of the time I landed in Madras at 1AM at a bus stop where there were a dozen autowallahs and no one else. Or so I thought. It was only after I spotted my dad and aunt waiting by the car further down the road that I reclaimed my breath. It still gives me shudders!

  11. MM, I am tired! Fighting the same battle…I don’t know how to make them understand that this girl had every right to be outside at that time of the day. And when your so called educated, 30 something male colleague passes the comment that, “she shouldn’t have gone out with a guy she had known just for a day!”, (I don’t know from where he got that information and I don’t care) I feel utterly hopeless. I am tired trying to change the mind set of such %&#$*& around me.

    • It’s amazing. First off, he has that information wrong. Second, it would be totally okay for a man to go out with a man he had known just a day. Why not a woman? Do men realise how they portray themselves as out of control beasts when they come up with these lines?

      I’ve had so many men say – well its not safe on the roads you know.
      To which I respond – why? is it that all of your gender are worse than wild animals?

      gives them a shock when their own thought is thrown back to them, from a woman’s perspective.

      • At the cost of making sweeping general statements, the unfortunate truth is that some of them ARE worse than wild animals, or seem to think they have the right to get away with behaving that way. And years of taking it because we are weaker and have brought it upon ourselves by something we have done has allowed them to believe that CAN..

    • A very smart, educated from premier institute 40 something manager in my org who is also a mom of a college going daughter said “The girls themselves are responsible too. They should dress up properly.” when we were discussing this case. We have a long way to go to change the mindset of the whole nation :(

  12. You have done a brilliant job with the narration. I was reading your story with my heart pounding…wondering what lies next. I was half inclined to believe you are writing fiction and wanting to give it a twist in the end.

    Yes it’s so true… the more we blame the victim, the more we are justifying the rapist’s deeds. It’s like we assume the natural state of men is to rape at the slightest provocation – or no provacation.

  13. It would be a sad day, indeed, if girls stopped using buses, or trains, or being out there, from the notion of being ‘protected’ by their guardians. This is what the bigots want, to push the women back into homes, into more submissive roles. The first way to a safe environment is not to be afraid.

  14. Very soulfully written, MM. This post brought a kind of surge in me bringing with it memories of my teenage years – those vulnerable years when one’s sole interpretation of freedom is to be rebellious and throw to the winds every bit of caution given by parents.

    My father had been posted to this sleepy coastal town of Tamil Nadu and our family relocated to this place when I was 15.
    Yanked out in the middle of class X from a CBSE school in Chennai and admitted into a school following a different curriculum, my sister and I were enrolled in a tuition center pretty close by, to help us cope.
    My sister (who is just a year younger than me), another girl and I used to cycle to the center. One particular stretch of road on the way used to be deserted. It did have streetlights, but all the houses along the stretch were huge independent ones and the inmates were usually shut indoors.
    A few times, when we were on the way back home, a couple of rogues, also on bicycles, would violently tap us from the opposite direction or pull at our dupattas (I shudder to think that it could have been fatal had it got noosed up or entangled with the wheels, you know) and whiz by at top speed, shouting something really despicable.

    Silly that we were, we chose not to tell our parents about it, going for the sillier option of asking a hapless boy classmate to chaperone us. I think our fear actually emboldened the perpetrators. When we eventually did tell our dad after a couple of assaults, he did just what we had feared would end our freedom. He rang up his friend who was the Deputy Superintendant of Police in the town and before we knew it, there were vans of police personnel scouring the streets for the scoundrels.

    Thanks to my dad reporting this to the police, patrols which were previously unheard of in the locality, were constantly conducted.
    We were not allowed to venture out on our bicycles and certainly not after dark. I remember seething with shame that the episode was being widely discussed in our tuition center and in school.

    In retrospect, it scandalizes me now to think that I was enraged with my dad for doing what any sensible man would have done, instead of at crappy people (including my tuition instructor and the mother of the other girl in the victimized trio) who made snide remarks to the effect of “Hey, watch out ! Don’t even look her way, her dad will get you booked for eve teasing!!” as if it were the joke of the millennium.
    That really rattles me now.

    My parents became ever so cautious after this episode and still are anxious when I travel alone. In fact, they now have the additional worry over the safety of their precious grandson. Things are still the same 15 years on which pretty much leaves me feeling hopeless.

    -Ramya

    • I have to agree with Ramya here. When we’re talking about mindset changes, it is a long term thing, that even with a lot of effort, will take a long time to happen. WHile I totally agree that the sick mentality and victim mentality is wrong and should change, we all know that it is going to take a long time for that to happen, esp in more narrow-minded familites/societies. As we work on that, why not also focus on interim solutions like having stricter patroling, more video cams, general awrareness of surroundings etc. first. Just like what her dad did (reporting to police, getting patrols). This is one way to hopefully alleviate or reduce a lot of crimes (rape, burglaries, kidnapping etc.). I live in the US, and we had an incident where a few months ago there were a lot of similar type of burglaries, all in 1 neighbourhood. The whole community stepped up. Got poilce involved, setup mailing groups where each peson reported any suspicious activity on email and to the cops, including unmarked vans, solocitiors etc. We have started organizing more regular parties for the neighbourhood, just so that peeople now who their neighbors are (we had a lot of home sales etc recently, so people kept coming and going). Why not use such measures? Maybe some NGO can have a 911 type faciliity in Delhi.. i dont know.. so many ideas.
      I’ll tell you this though, after our neighbourhood stepped up, touch wood no burglaries have been reported. Solicitors are gone from here. In general, much better. It can happen. Baby steps, but it will.
      May her soul rest in peace, and I hope this will result in better awareness. Atleast I’m glad the media covered it dilgently. Up until now, it would have been a corner news, forgotten the very next day :( – kutty’s mom

  15. Ten years ago, on a 9.30 p.m bus in Chennai, I brandished a Swiss Army knife at a drunkard who kept advancing towards me, as the only other people in the bus, the driver and a conductor, pretended not to notice. I jumped off the bus in a dark bus stop and ran all the way home. I was so mad at myself. I lost that knife but early this year, I gifted myself a new Swiss Army knife. I don’t trust this world we live in.
    I will step out, claim my place in this world, but since our men are not yet ready and not yet sure of their ability to keep their animal behavior in check, I will continue to carry that knife with me.

  16. Hi MM,
    extremely thought provoking post! After reading this, I expected most of the comments to say that ‘you were so lucky’ and indeed I was right. It is so unfortunate that a necessary thing like getting home safely from uni/work is a matter of luck and chance. I personally take umbrage to comparing the behaviour of these men to animals, which is also reflected in the comments. Being the grand-daughter of a zoologist I have been taught that animals don’t behave like this. This is a very human aberration (or seemingly the norm!).

    • I hear you Amrita but also understand the women who are reacting that way: it’s scary out there and precautions need to be in place while the world changes. MM herself owns to being nervous and scared at the time and that seems about right. I’m just glad it did’nt make her quit college/work and stay home out of fear. And those who preach caution to lone women bear a large responsibility to follow up on their shrinking thoughts with encouragment for fellow women to still get out and claim their place. Well said re: animals.

      • Thanks for your comment Chandreyee (sorry for hogging your comment space MM!). I completely agree with you, especially in that ‘precautions need to be in place while the world changes’.
        Will hop over to your blog and do some reading now!

  17. The building lump -goosebumps- nostalgia- tears- Relief-rage- solace-companionship- oneness- nothingness– determination-solace and most of all RESPECT.(and yet I have not been able to list every single emotion that I am going through right now)

    The building lump – For that brave girl who was not ”lucky” enough.
    Goosebumps- For the fear of the unknown.
    Nostalgia – For the number of times I have seen this movie.
    Tears- For the everyday abuse that we are subjected to.
    Relief- For the everyday abuse that we manage to escape.
    Rage- For I feel handcuffed.
    Companionship- For I am not alone.
    Oneness- For the cause.
    Nothingness- For as I write this who knows what might be happening to a four year old.
    Solace- For may be not everyone is a demon.
    Determination – For a better tomorrow.
    Respect – FOR All THREE OCCUPANTS OF THAT BUS – that courageous brave-heart girl – who totally held her own and the other two who gave her a reason to believe that not all is lost !

    You made me CRY MM- and yet I wish I could savor this state of mind.

  18. And I just walked back home (at 10 pm) from the medical shop – about a 10 min walk from my place. As I was getting back into our (gated) community, this firang who also lives somewhere inside I guess (new I suppose – I don’t know him), walked along me and asked – do you feel safe in Bangalore as a woman? Its pretty late but you seem to be fine. Oh yes I said. I feel perfectly fine, would go even further if I had to.

    The day this freedom gets curtailed would be a sad sad one.

  19. I totally agree that the victim should never be blamed. The house I grew up was located and is still located smack opposite a government boys high school. Throughout my teen years, I grew up in constant fear of being bullied by these guys. I would never go out on the street during school entry and exit times. Because there would be literally 100s of rowdy boys wandering our street making catcalls and lewd gestures ! Only consolation was neighbors would constant watch out for us which made walking on the street bearable. When I go back home, memories come flooding back and I am on the watch to see if anything similar is happening to other younger girls.
    But on another note, how do you protect girls till the world realizes that rape is absolutely wrong? How do we let girls wander on the street late at nights when you know that there are chances of something horribly wrong happening to them? At this time and age, if I were a father of a teenage girl, I would definitely caution my daughter to watch what she wears, where she goes and what time she comes back. You cannot afford to blame the assaulters. This does not mean I am saying they are in the right but there is no other way!
    For example, at the University where I current work, we are constantly reminded to be aware of our surroundings if we go home late at night. Not for fear of rape but for fear of getting mugged. We are told not to talk on the phone if we are alone at night. And lock the car doors as soon as you get in. Isn’t this the same as telling a girl to watch out for things around her and not get into buses if she thinks it is suspicious? Just saying!

    • Rape is the oldest crime in the world. It is not that people need to ‘realise’ it is wrong. Do you imagine criminals don’t know they are committing a crime when they are committing it?

      We have to change the way we think, and we speak. When you say girls ‘wander on the street’ you need to examine the language you have used in that statement and see the inherent judgment. We’ve all done it, but we need to stop and rethink. Lets look at what you just said.

      Watch what she wears – Are you aware of the number of rural rapes that take place? What do you think they are wearing? Are they in short skirts, wearing makeup, high heels? So clearly it’s not the clothes. Custodial rape – raped by the army and the police forces – what do you think of that?

      Where she goes – are you aware that women get raped in their beds, by their husbands? by a brother? an uncle? What about the 2 year old babies raped, the 94 year old woman raped? Do you know that 70% of rapes are by a known person. A friend offering you a lift home, your landlord, a colleague you are traveling with. What do you suggest in these cases? That a woman stays home, barricades herself into a room from the day she is born and never steps out?

      What time she comes back – girls have been raped in broad daylight. While entire villages stand around watching. Mob molested on a busy Bombay road.
      ,
      Women are raped because men rape them. Men who have erectile problems rape with bottles, broken bottles, brooms, sticks, rods. It is an act of violence. Not an act of sexual nature where you get turned on by a pretty face and a short skirt. Old, young, babies, fat, thin, smelly, dirty, ugly – every type of woman has been raped. In the ancient times it was expected that an army that conquered, would rape and pillage. A way of showing your power over the country that lost. The sooner we as women stop misunderstanding this act for what it is, the better for all of us.

      I agree with your last part – that one must be aware of one’s surroundings. We have only ourselves to depend on since the govt is failing, the mechanism around is failing. But what do you suggest a girl waiting for a bus after work does if there are only men in it? Not get on? Wait even longer in the dark, for the next bus, which might have even fewer people? There’s no choice but to get out there and live your life. The more women there are out there, the safer it is for all of us. Men are not used to seeing women out late at night. If they see more of us, it will be less of a novelty and there will be safety in numbers, one hopes.

      • Totally agree with what you say. I would like to add… Every problem, if you look at it holistically, has to be met with two plans – a short term and a long term plan.
        A lot has been discussed on Governmental Policy revisions and punishments for sexual offences. I would like to discuss on how a family, the smallest functional unit in a society, can complement the scores of policies being made for this.

        Here the long term plan is not really a plan, it’s just something which a lot of us are already doing and a lot many others sadly don’t deem important.

        – teach our kids to respect fellow human beings’ space. Now this is a very vague term, I know. A more granular approach might be to teach our kids not to touch what is not theirs and never ever without consent – it could begin with a mere inanimate object to begin with. A child who has been instilled this attitude will grow up with a sense of propriety. I hope.

        – It is not possible to insulate our children from perversity of any form – hence I think it better to make them understand the price one will have to pay for indulging in one impulsive wrong act. It is not to threaten them or rob their innocence off them. It could be taught in the same breath as one would teach them road rules and what happens if they are not adhered to. Simply but effectively.

        – A lot of victims associate shame with crime. This seriously has to be decoupled. This, again stems from the prevalent attitude of shaming the bullied rather than the bully right from childhood. We have all seen that happen, haven’t we?

        Ours being a nation chock-a-block with myriad cultures, languages, strata and all that, it is impossible to arrive at the ideal point together as a nation. That’s exactly why it is necessary to also have stop gap arrangements in place, just in case something goes wrong.

        – Exercising caution while travelling – male or female for that matter.
        – If travelling alone is absolutely necessary, it is important to have help on speed dial – the local police station, ambulance, office security personnel, whatever…
        – Not getting into argument with auto/cab drivers (See, I have personally nothing against them, but it so happens that they are the ones who I always get into heated arguments with, outnumbered only by my arguments with my husband!!). This is not to defend the unreasonable and obnoxiously rude ones. It is just for my own safety (Just like we wear a helmet to protect ourselves from some other runaway errant vehicle although we may be excellent, rule abiding drivers not exceeding 30-40 kmph).

        It would be great to have more inputs on this with more granular solutions. Please, let’s do this !!

        • by ‘travelling alone’ I meant during late hours or deserted hours and when secure transport is not at hand… But on second thought, it is better to carry them all the time !! You never know….

      • I think you may have misconstrued what I meant. Yes, my language may have been a little rustic but I honestly did not have the time to go over the nuances of my writing when I scribbled my hasty comments. Again, I am not supporting the abusers or the act. People are never going to change. Especially such psychologically twisted individuals who find pleasure in abuse and rape. It will be utopia when all humans realize abuse in any form be it even to a legaly married husband/wife is wrong.
        My point is that if I am living in a place where a woman is raped every 20 minutes, I better watch out. It is analagous to how I was worried about my son’s preschool security after the horrible incident in Sandy Hook elementary happened. I was wary of the teachers, the people outside the school and almost wanted to keep him home. I wear short skirts and dresses myself. But when I travel alone (which I do a lot on work) and if I am in cities like New Orleans late in the night, I dress more modestly and am more aware of what’s happening and what I am doing. Unless the government decides to take massive action on the way sexual assault is handled, and only when the social stigma of rape changes, is anything possible. This was my point in my last comment. Maybe I am a pessimist but I do not think people who are psychologically deranged enough to abuse for fun will never change. This is my view point. I believed that comment sections are for others to express their view without getting chided for it. Sorry if am not as good as expressing my opinion like you!

        • You were not ‘chided’. I expressed dissent. I see you meant something else and have re-phrased. Which is great. Glad to see we’re in agreement. I think we all need to behave responsibly – whether male or female.

  20. Were those men drunk or on drugs or something? I am not justifying thier act. just trying to figure out what might have caused them to conduct such a demonic act

    • No you are not. I understand. And yes, they were drinking, the reports say. But there have been equally barbaric acts committed on women in broad daylight. Google Khairlanji and Bhotmange to see how a family of Dalits was murdered, the wife and daughter had rods inserted into them and left to die. A whole village knew it was happening and no one stepped in to save them. This isn’t the first time in India. It’s just the first time its been reported so widely.

  21. very well stated and when i heard the new i just thought my sister was all around the town about the same time and how did i allowed her that and the amount of risk there was, but that is due to procreative nature to her but that doesn’t make any sense that this was due to somebody’s mistake other then those people. And there were and are so many cases happening. This is nobody’s but our fault. We allowed them to do this. Even most educated people i have met have said it that girls shouldn’t do this or shouldn’t do that, that is just plain stupid. People, media everyone still believe that men can do anything. On screen a “Hero” can slap “Heroine” and still be referred as nothing much happened. This includes every one. I am just sad how everyone is so sad about this incident but when it comes from doing it for their own children, they will first think of socity and then will choose what is best for her/him.

    -Mr. Weird

    P.S. if you have the time please review my blog too. I just started writing.

  22. So, so, so true! We’ve all been there,done that. For some, a bad day turned into a fatal one, as you say.For others, they just got lucky.
    And, yes, staying at home is not the solution. At all.

  23. I live very far from my country and have lost the habit of travelling by bus or train, but the vivid memory of me travelling int hem is still there. Last summer when I visited my parents, my baba was in high paranoia about me coming back home late especially as because I had to travel by local train. It felt unsafe and even sad that I do not feel secure on my own turf. Stopping to do what I do because some dim head fanatic had and uncontrollable urge is something I can not do. I agree with you, and urge all women to do what they were doing.

  24. MM –

    What I really HATE when such discussions happen ( not in blogosphere where we represent a very small percent of the society and I feel we are more or less on the same page) is along with victim blaming everyone has notions of right and wrong of “Who she was with” and “Why she was out” –
    For example if she was with her husband ( and not a male friend)
    or she was returning from her job ( and not a movie)
    the perception suddenly changes …HOW DOES THAT MATTER is my F&&&&&ing question …
    I was in India on my annual trip when this happened and I was boiling with anger everytime this discussion happened …from cab drivers to relatives …
    the stress was on Male friend and coming back from movie and never on the culprits ….. i remember few other cases when such incidents happened to women returning from work and there was less victim blaming
    The husband and I got tired of fighting with everyone and explaining similar stuff that you and many have commented on the women’s right to freedom …. I feel like I have no more energy to fight because even at the end of all our discussion they don’t see any sense in what we are trying to say …. :(

  25. contd from above ….Sharing some of the comments I heard (actual was more crude, some lost in translation )
    A cab driver whose cab we had rented for a long drive – She (the girl on the bus) was not of good character …she was just having fun with a her boyfrnd (gulcharre types) …. if not for these rapists, the boyfriend would have done something to her ( I WAS SPEECHLESS)
    Another long debate on how these 2 are different – she can do anything she wants and someone forcing themselves on her is criminal …. he just failed to even acknowledge what we were saying might make sense …
    My SIL who has a Masters in engineering and is a university rank holder and works for the government as a gazetted office and a mom to 2 girls – She should not have been out so late …. She should have been more careful ….

  26. Having lived all my (albeit ‘sheltered’) life fearlessly, or pretty much so, I still find myself gulping a bit in apprehension when I have to go places now. Without that sense of ‘this is home’ – I feel all unsteady and uprooted. And there is my daughter. So tiny and so naive. And my mum, over there. I am glad you were safe finally MM. I feel so old and defeated sometimes. But I am not going to change what I do, definitely not.

  27. Very well written. 100% on target. India’s journey to a better place will be a painful journey. Each step will be fought. In the meantime continue to go out…..and pick up some judo/karate along the way. The attitude of men will take time to change in what is basically a patriarchal and in many ways feudal society.

    Basic policing has to improve…..but I wonder what it will take to change things.

  28. About 10pm in the night in Chicago, my first solo sight seeing trip. I had to go back to the hostel that I was staying in, but before that I had to pick my car from the cheap garage I had parked it in or risk getting it towed. So I wait for a cab, get in and give him the address of the garage. It was a middle aged African American. I had consulted the maps and expected him to take a certain route and realised that we were going in another route. I asked him why we were taking this street and he replies that it is the easy way. I am thinking why did I not bring my tripod along from the hostel. Why did I not do before going up the skydeck. Why did I come here alone. Then we pull up at the empty isolated garage under a bridge. I pay him and make a quick run to my car. Then once I settle in and start that car I notice that he waiting to see if I safely left the garage. Well at that point all I could see was an angel looking out for me in the form of that man.

    I didnt know if I was wrong in getting worried in that cab. But I was glad I got in the cab at that time of night to a deserted garage to learn the lesson that there is still good in this world.

    • PS. I have not seen anyone else make such a convincing argument on this without resorting to rhetoric. Great write up MM.

  29. Your bus story reminded me of a couple of my own. I was 17 in a new city and used to take 2 buses to college. Not knowing the local language was a handicap, there was a conductor on the bus that used to go all the way to college. Over a period of time he and i became “friends”. He would check in broken Hindi if I was doing okay in college, if my syllabus was too difficult. On an odd day, when i wouldn’t make it to his bus because i was running late, I would face the Spanish inquisition the next day. He watched out for me every day, the 2 years i went to that college, sort of like a guardian angel. Later when I started working and traveled between Bombay and Pune and took Asiad buses in the middle of the night, I had drivers and conductors making sure I sat next to women or in a single seat in the front, so i wouldn’t be harassed by unwanted attention.

    I learnt to rely on the kindness of these strangers, I went out and took buses and trains in the middle of the night because these men made me think I would be safe. It had nothing to do with my behavior, it had to do with theirs. I was the bold, brash young woman in large part thanks to them. So yes, there is a urgent need for us to take back the streets, the buses and trains. It is important to let society know that we cannot be held responsible for their bad behavior. That the blame for the crime should be laid at the perpetrator’s door and not at the victim’s.

  30. Dear Mad Momma, a friend of mine shared this article on Face Book. I was so in sync, I reshared it at once. Wonder if you would like to check my blog out, my take on Delhi and her ethos.
    VIEWS AND REVIEWS: Oh Delhi!

  31. It gives me a bit of hope that there do exist people in Delhi who see the essential problem with shifting some part of the blame on the victim.
    It’s also refreshing to see that this discourse exists outside of the young-lawyer group that I’m part of – had started believing that this was not the case.
    I’ve grown up in Delhi, and I’m on the verge of giving up on the hope of ever feeling safe or secure when I step out at any time. Your post, however, makes me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, winds of change might blow sometime soon.

  32. Hi MM,

    I came across your post while randomly browsing. I really enjoy your approach and writing style. However, this is what I felt about the incident. Yes I am a feminist too, yes i believe women should be able to walk out freely at whatever time they want and not be worried about being mauled or raped, and most definitely YES it is never the victim’s fault. But unfortunately, in today’s world, this thought remains more idealistic that realistic. While we should all be working in every possible way to make our society reach this idealistic pinnacle, can we really blindfold our eyes to the reality of today and the horror it presents? Can we take a walk out at midnight by ourselves to make a point that as women we will not bend down to what men and society expect of us to be, without at some corner of our own mind, be a little scared that we should in fact get home safe? Isn’t the current world out there genuinely a scary place today for women to venture out as they please?

    It is really sad that we do have to adhere to the norms of “be home before its dark” and the likes, not because we are giving up our right to be as we please, but because the reality is that we are indeed exposing ourselves to a bunch of lewd, disgusting men out there just waiting to pounce on the next hapless victim. So until, there is a bigger change in these inhumane creatures abstaining from behaving like horny filthy animals, women DO have to exercise caution and protect themselves from being in situations which may expose them to the likes of such people. And personally, I believe that change can come ONLY from severe and quick punishments to men who so much as attempt to molest a girl. let alone think of rape.

    So yes, NEVER blame the victim, never stop believing or fighting for your rights as women, and always fight for the cause of changing society’s stereotypical mindsets on how women “should” be, but my strong suggestion is, don’t push it to the extent of being foolish and getting trapped in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

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