Saturday, December 5, 2009

Being Female in Delhi

Some people often remind me I don't know what India is like. I don't know how unsafe it can be for a girl. Let's forget the fact that I'm twenty-five years old and live in the capital of India, New Delhi.
Sure, let's go with it. Let's say I don't know much. I am probably more ignorant than my oversized ego can afford. Even if that's the case, I'm not stupid.

Here's the real problem - I'm female.

Those that often claim that India is changing, that boys and girls are the same now...You know you've met them. They don't actually believe it. How can they? There's a reason that I read about at least one rape in the paper every morning. Delhi is not a safe place for females. And yet women find a way to be independent and lead fearless lives. It is possible. The key is to not compromise your safety.

The other day, Papa dropped me to the Metro station. But he didn't stop there. He proceeded to take the Metro, with me, until the stop where I had to get off. It was 6 pm. I felt not that I was living in a democracy but a dictatorship. It was humiliating.

What am I trying to say? It is possible to live in Delhi without a chaperone as soon as the sun sets. The very public Metro is not a dark, isolated ally.

The other day I was at INA Market when three guys were staring at me as if I was an object. It is far from flattering. I tactfully moved and looked at some other items in a shop, and they proceeded to reposition themselves in front of me so they could get a better view. That was it. I went up to them and firmly let them know how ridiculously idiotic they were behaving. It didn't involve curse words or slappage (both of which were very tempting at the time), but I was loud enough that they felt ashamed of their ogling. A few minutes later I looked at them and their eyes were checking out the corner of the floor. The lesson is not that I should jeopardize myself at every opportunity. Rather, it is that I do not need nor do I want to be sheltered by guardians. If I am always with a male then I will not learn how to take care of myself in such situations. I will end up depending on him to save me every time. And that's not the person I want to be.


  1. Pragya, I am impressed that you went up to the men and told them off. The key to behavior like that on their part is "what do they have to lose" if they don't lose much by harassing or hurting you the danger for you is much higher. Be cognizant of that ratio.

    As much as we would like to change this amazing nation and spin it on its heel, the likelihood of change is distant and slow.

    The change, I believe, must begin with the women in every family who opt to become parents. In choosing that option the responsibility lies with them and their partners to teach basic life skills to the offspring. Respect for other human beings.

  2. I agree with Hansa. When you are 25 and have lived most of your life outside of India, its hard to understand - heck its harder to explain to make you understand. But the truth is a truth. My suggestion - dont take is personally.

  3. To the spirit of being a "Bhagat" - cheers :]

  4. Oh Pragya, you are courageous! :) I agree with "Hansa" tho- be weary of the ratio. Even if it is just one man. I think you want to believe that India has changed, but that is not reality-- i.e. at least one rape reported in the paper EVERY morning (who knows how many go unreported?). I don't know the situation of what happened in those cases, but I imagine those happened to native born women who ARE already aware of the dangers of being a female. Not trying to scare you, but it is what it is =(

    Even the times I've gone back to China, I've been fairly alert. Thankfully the places I've been to have not been as bad as New Delhi, but I still have a low baseline of having my guard up outside. I look too American, so I stand out sometimes. To me, it's not worth the possible consequences if something were to happen.

    Do they sell pepper spray there? =P

  5. thanks for the concern folks. yes, they do sell pepper spray and i do plan on carrying some. i also do NOT plan on mouthing off every inappropriate male i come across.

  6. Not justifying this, but the problem is cultural. We as a culture in India have largely suppressed our sexual expression. There is minimal interaction between the sexes on a social and personal level, especially in our young and formative years. This leads to considerable sexual frustration, especially in men, which is released in negative ways. What we need as a society is a sexual revolution.

  7. Bravo Pragya, but then again I would expect nothing less from you. The discussion here is interesting,

    I think one of the commenters (neha) pointed out that in Delhi, the law enforcement officials were not at all co-operative when it came to crimes against women. She said many of them, were themselves 'preying' on women. She said the situation in that regard was different in Mumbai and Bengaluru, the cops were more responsive.

    I am not an expert here, but I think its unlikely that skewed sex-ratios are the primary cause. Similar problems are observed in places like Egypt (, which have more or less normal sex ratios. I really think that this is a matter of the law not being enforced by an unsympathetic administration, very troubling, considering the CM is a lady !