Women keep to themselves in India. What kind of a life is that?

When I was a kid, I was a very energetic, enthusiastic little girl. I would get so excited over the littlest things, like almost every other kid. I remember when my Dad got me a new bicycle – a BSA Ladybird. I would ride it round and round my building and all the streets nearby with my friend. The desire to ride it on the roads whenever I got a little time came from pure excitement and happiness of owning a shiny new cycle.  There was nothing to think about, nothing to worry about to bring that desire to reality. It was simple, ‘Oooh! A new cycle! Yay! I am going to ride it whenever and wherever!’ And just like this one little desire, my cute little heart was full of so many others, I would dream of seeing those beautiful places they showed on TV – the Taj Mahal, Kashmir, the backwaters of Kerala, Venice, the Piramids – the list goes on. I would imagine a grown up version of me going around with a backpack, a camera and a passport – just like the travel show hosts. And I would imagine people admiring me and my spirit of travel. So, what happened to those dreams?

I will tell you what happened. From a kid, I grew into a teenager. And I started to notice things around me change. Everyone knows change in the life of a person entering the phase of adolescence, and these can make his/her life tumultuous for a while. But the changes that happened to me were far minor compared to the ones that happened around me. I could see eyes staring, gestures being made that were supposed to mean something. But I couldn’t understand what, all I knew was they made me uncomfortable. I remember, one time, I was walking back home from school with a friend. I bid goodbye to her when we reached her home, and I started walking towards mine – completely minding my own business. Then I noticed a man on a cycle following me. Just to make sure, I slowed down and sure enough, he did too. I panicked. I ran. I did not look back, until I was safe behind the closed doors of my home. I had no idea what just happened. But any grown up I talked to about that incident, just told me to not stop anywhere when I was walking, or start riding my cycle to school or just ignore the incident.

I did not understand this reaction. Why wasn’t anyone mad at that man? Why wasn’t anyone saying ‘how could he do that?!’ But instead, I was the one who must take precautions. A few months later I went on a family trip to Bengaluru and Mysore. We were at the Vrindavan gardens and it was dark. I was waiting for the light show which it is very popular for to start. I was very excited. I found a good spot from where the show would look good. And to my horror, bus-loads of inebriated, college students arrived – apparently on a college trip from Kerala. I think they were about 500 in number; not a single female among them. Oh, the horror of that experience. They would surround every girl in view. There was staring, gesturing, signaling and touching. The helplessness was unbearable. I wished I had an AK47 in my hand and shoot down every single asshole that came anywhere closer than 50m from me.

A few moments back, I was waiting in excitement and anticipation to watch the light show. And here I was looking for a ‘safe’ spot with my parents to get away from the vultures. In the end, the show was over. And instead of being filled with the joy of watching an amazing display, we were left hassled and helpless. Not to mention, that I was not able to catch a single minute of the show. When I shared this incident with a cousin in Kerala, she just smiled and said ‘these things happen’. I was shocked! Why isn’t anyone angry?

These incidents kept happening over and over. And they keep happening even today. All I can do is avoid and ignore. My spirit of traveling, forget traveling alone, is crushed. It is no longer as simple as having a desire and fulfilling it. After over a decade, today I bought a bicycle and I took it for a ride. And there were so many stares, it was overwhelming. Some men on bikes even turned their heads round to gape. All I could do was ignore them and look into the horizon. Not looking any man in the eye. Even something as simple as riding a cycle has become a harrying experience.

I know I am not supposed to blame anyone, or use excuses to cover up my unfulfilled dreams. But over the years, I have been convinced that I cannot go to any unfamiliar places alone. I need a man, ‘a bodyguard’. All I can say is – dear Indian men (and men elsewhere), women, just like men, have dreams. If you can follow your dreams without worrying about being hassled, why can’t we? Live, and let us live.

Me and my new cycle!

Me and my new cycle!

P.S: The blog that inspired me to write this one: http://www.solitarywanderer.com/2013/04/eve-teasing-and-solo-travel-in-india/ . The amazing author of this blog asks the question – Women keep to themselves in India, what kind of a life is that?

12 thoughts on “Women keep to themselves in India. What kind of a life is that?

  1. Thank you for this wonderful response! You have articulated what women worldwide think about violence against women: why aren’t we allowed to live lives free from abuse? I think in India it’s more pronounced than in others, but it does exist everywhere, and it’s only when we speak out about it can anything be done. Thanks again for giving us a glimpse of what it’s like to live in India as a woman!

  2. I really had no idea it was this bad. My wife and I traveled India together for 2 months and people stared. But it never went beyond that. Most likely because I was there. It is really sad that you have been made to feel so uncomfortable in your own country. I hope you find a way to full fill your dreams

    • India is a vast country with overwhelming contrasts. I guess, the kind of experiences one has depends on when and where he/she is. I am glad you had a pleasant stay here! Thank you for your kind words!

  3. Agree with everything written in the blog apart from the cycle part. The fact of the matter is if you are on a fancy bike ( to read as geared cycle or better) you’ll get stared at irrespective of whether you are male or female. In case of men ( i cycle too) I have got almost pushed off the road, asked stupid questions and what not. Wonder why people can’t mind their own business.

    Coming to the main theme of the blog, I think one of the primary reasons that there is lower overall safety for women in the society today is because we have become self centered. Today if someone does some mischief on the road, there is a very remote chance that bystanders will come in. And I feel over a period of time this has emboldened miscreants in our society.

    However having said that, things like aren’t simple. They have their roots in multiple issues. However strict implementation of the law and education can help curbing this menace.

    • Yes, it is a very deep rooted issue and not that easy to eradicate. But I guess what angers me the most is the fact that I had expected things to get better over the years. But instead they have taken a turn for the worse.

  4. I absolutely relate to your concept. Being an Indian and seeing the outlook people have I find it outrageous how lightly people take things like stalking and eve-teasing. I have a sister and a mother, everytime I go out in a public space I’m worried where I might get to see a creep and one that deserves a beating. My sister says she doesn’t care, my mother asks me to ignore. But can we really? It’s SO enfuriating, to say the least, tha I feel like one of those MMA fighters from television just trying to figure out ways to hurt these assholes. But sadly, the fear of things going from bad to worse keeps us from doing much. Truth be told it’s all a question of upbringing. That being said, I can personally say I’m far better than most of the males in more or less the same situation- middle class family, graduate, etc. The difference being – I know how uncomfortable stares can make a woman. I feel that paranoia everytime I’m out with a friend who is a girl to eat/hang out. We have to change the educated class people’s thought process first. We can work on educating the others then.
    However, in all fairness, India is far better than a lot of other places out there. We have cities like Mumbai that a girl can move around 24×7 and not feel alienated. But we can improve further, no doubt.

    • Exactly, I feel like punching some people in the face but there is this fear of things turning from bad to worse. And yes, we are better than some other countries, but that shouldn’t really stop is from getting better.

  5. I can understand what you are feeling. The guys whom you have described in this post, most of them are from small places or villages where they have never talked to a woman, or had a girl as a friend before.

    When they come to a place where they see girls dressed in modern outfits, they think that those girls can take anything. That’s the main reason why they can’t relate to how you feel and they think that what they do is normal. And that’s one of the main reasons they act that way against foreigners. It is shitty and disgusting.

    It has all got to do with the up-bringing. Majority of Indian men think that women still belong in the kitchen. If that attitude changes, then everything will.

    Kudos on the hard-hitting post. Hoping to see more in the blog!

  6. Hey there…
    I am Mrudul with ‘u’ and not ‘i’.
    That is not the only thing we share. I love to travel and I make it a point to go for at least one 15 day trip every year, no matter what. Except a few, I have mostly travelled in India. And I am really glad to tell you that my experience hasn’t been as bad.
    For most of my trips I had guys accompanying me but it wasn’t because I needed bodyguards, It was because I liked their company. Also on two of my trips it was just me and my Gal pals. One was in the state of Gujarat from Mumbai(just two of us) and the other one was Mumbai – Delhi – Leh – J & k – Mumbai (6 girls and one of us was my European friend). I am really please to tell you that we did not have to experience any uncomfortable situations. Not even in Delhi which is infamous for such things. May be we were lucky or something, I do not know!! But the important thing is that if you really want to do it, nothing can stop. Being a girl it is always better to be cautious but it applies everywhere not just in India. What I have learnt from my travels is that people all over are the same.
    So just let go of this fear and start doing what you want to. For starters, may be take you male friends along, till you get the confidence and later, just do it on you own!!
    We live in such a beautiful country and we hardly explore it!!

    All the best for your future trips!!

    • I do travel in groups; it is definitely better than not traveling at all! But you need people who think like you, or it could get boring! And I still feel very uncomfortable sometimes. I guess its those experiences that I have had in the past that still scare me. It is not easy to let go, but I am trying! Thank you for your reply!

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