in danger

nighttimeOne night in December 2014 in New Delhi, India, after a long day of running a camp for children in Lado Sarai where we taught them dance, music, drawing, storytelling and sport, my male friend Akshay and I decided to go to a Ambiance Mall to eat my favourite dishes, Raj Kachori and Dosa.

Akshay is a wonderful guy, polite, open, friendly, enthusiastic, tall and handsome but he is just a friend. We sat together sharing the meal and our journey of faith. We laughed with each other, inspired one another, admired one another and our conversation flowed and continued long after the meal was done because we were enjoying one another’s company and time became unimportant. But unfortunately time is not unimportant to most people in India. Actually, as the sun fell from the sky, time became one of the most important things. This fact, however, escaped us.

At around 8pm we left the mall, the colourful lights and large advertisements adorning the walls of the modern complex faded behind us as we stepped onto the darkened road. By that point I had come to enjoy taking buses because I had discovered one bus that took me within 10 minutes walk from my house and it only costed 10 rupees versus the 180 rupees the rickshaw drivers charged me because I was staying in a wealthy area. I waved away the rickshaws and hopped onto my bus, Akshay hopped on with me and planned to jump off at the stop closest to his student accommodation. We rode the bus as we would ride any bus, continuing to chat enthusiastically with each other, building upon the budding friendship we had, complimenting each other’s character in a non-manipulative, non-flirtatious way, brushing off the thought that any of the stares we were receiving had malice or disapprove behind them.

The bus did not go all the way to my house that night. We had to jump off at Munirka to catch another bus. I’ve done this many times in London, often after 12am, most of the times by myself. I’ve fallen asleep in buses at 1am only to wake up intuitively at my stop. I’ve had drunken people fall asleep on top of me on these journeys. But I have always reached home without experiencing the slightest tinge of danger. That night in New Delhi, however, I found myself walking with Akshay on a dark pavement for fifteen minutes to find the second bus. We passed in front of a large open-air slum and felt the heavy stare of man standing like a guardian in front of one of the shacks. I wondered for a second whether we should have been there at that time of night but it is the 21st Century, I thought, why shouldn’t we be able to walk towards a bus together at 8:30pm? Finally we found the bus, I got on alone and Akshay left to go home. I jumped off at my stop, looking behind me to make sure none was following me, the fear rising up in me because of the imbalance of males on the bus and their unmoving, unfriendly stares. I hastily walked to the place where I was staying, locked the door behind me and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up to a panicked email from my mother asking me if I had seen the international news reports about the Japanese girl who was gang raped in South India. The news, which I hadn’t yet heard, sparked a bout of online research on the topic of rape in India which finally led me to a heart wrenching story, the story of Jyoti Singh who was gang raped in Delhi in 2012 and eventually died from her injuries. Jyoti’s story was recently told in a documentary called India’s Daughter, published by the BBC and banned in India because of the depth at which it investigates Jyoti’s horrific story.

Jyoti was a medical student and a brave young women who believed in the good of humanity, who chose to trust men and to have male friends because she was able to be mature around them, to see them as equals, to enjoy their company, to be friends with them and nothing more. She valued the time she spent with male friends and must have hardly thought it wrong or odd to go to the cinema with one of her closest male friends one night in December 2012. She would not have let the thought cross her mind that anyone would use her choice of going out a night with a male friend as a ‘valid’ reason for punishing her by raping her over and over again, beating her, pulling out her intestines and leaving her to bleed in a bush along a main road. When she was speaking to her friend about her excitement for the future, where she wanted to work as a doctor, what she liked and disliked about studying medicine, when her male friend laughed with her and complimented her boldness and commitment in making her way to medical school despite her family’s poverty and perhaps told her how inspired he was by her, she probably never thought for a second that that friendship they had, the connection they shared, the safety and trust they had in their relationship that gave them courage to defy the demons of the Indian nighttime, would fuel the anger and hatred of the men who took turns to batter her body with their hands, private parts, words and other weapons.

Jyoti Singh, like me, left Ambiance mall on a night in December around 8pm with a male friend, and took a bus from the same exact area I took a bus. It was the same circumstance, the same place and the same time of night, but a different year and a very different fate. Jyoti was gang raped and killed, I was spared. 

That day I went to church devastated. I was devastated that the evil, unkind, unrelenting nature of many violent men and a culture that has long oppressed women, has resulted in a city where nightfall can cost women their dignity and their lives. Such perpetuation of evil, the lack of enforced punishment of rapists and constant blaming of women for their choice of dress and social life, casts a darkness over India that is thicker than the darkness of night itself. It is a darkness that pushes women into their homes too early, that tires them out as they try to flee from its  restrictions, that drags them by their hair as they give everything they have during the hours of daylight only to be banned from enjoying the nighttime hours that make up half their lives. Men drink their earnings away in packed bars in Delhi while women make the choice between staying home or being assaulted by evil men — for rape can never be described as anything but evil. 

In India it is estimated that a woman is raped every twenty minutes. In the time it takes a man to drink a cup of bangla, a very inexpensive spirit commonly drunk in Indian bars, another woman in India is raped. A cup of bangla for a man, a robbery of dignity and a destruction of the soul for a woman. In the same society where men can roam and act uncensored, unpunished for their horrid and wicked ways, a woman is punished for merely being born the ‘wrong’ sex. The thought that if I walked the same streets only two years earlier I could have not been alive to write this, to learn and grow and experience life as a woman, made me feel wretched and hideous because I shared the same humanity as the rapists who live amongst us. At church that morning I cried out to God, my face flooded with my tears. I said: Heavenly Father, take back this city. Don’t let it be the ‘Rape Capital of India’ anymore. Take it back, redeem it, make it Your capital.

For how else, other than by a movement that transforms the minds and hearts of men in India and of the world, would any of this ever change? This is a movement that all women should join because all of us are at risk of the same fate of Jyoti Singh. Men should join the fight too because your mother, sister, friend or daughter is at risk and because that man sitting next to you in the bar shouldn’t be left to believe that his partner EVER deserves a beating. I want to live in a world where I can walk anywhere at any time and not fear harm or death because of my sex. Don’t we all want this?

If it’s hard for you to get up and fight for the women in India and everywhere else then just remember that on another day, in another year, it could have been you or someone you love.

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