When I was in college, it became pretty common for me to come back late in the evening. I was discovering the freedoms of college life and Kolkata in 2011 was brimming with life at almost any time of the day. I was 18 and young and wasn’t going to let anyone tell what to do and when to do it.
And for the most part, I’m glad I stuck to that. But there is one incident from those days which sticks out to me, and which informs my activities to this day.
We used to live in a pretty far-out portion of Kolkata, built on newly reclaimed swampland, called Newtown (I know). It was far enough from the main city that my friends used to joke that going to my house was like travelling to a new country. Nowadays, Newtown is more populated than not but in 2011, it was large tracts of empty land dotted by the occasional set of buildings.
My walk from the bus-stand back to my house wasn’t actually that long, something like ten minutes. But it was a long and empty road, with only the occasional passing cyclist or car. When I was in school, my mother would come to pick me up but in college, I put my foot down.
On one of those days, I was on my way back home. It was winter and already pretty dark, so I was hurrying along when I spotted him. ‘He’ in this case being an older man coming from the opposite direction, his head down, presumably listening to music. As he came closer, he looked up at me and we made eye contact. I gave an absent-minded nod, busy in my own music.
But the man never took his eyes off me. Thinking back now, it’s more likely than not that he was just curious and didn’t actually mean me any harm. Or perhaps, he never noticed me at all. But my attention was immediately caught and I unconsciously sped up.
As I passed him by, I remember thinking a hundred different things. Oh god is he looking at me? What do I do if he tries to do anything? I’m not that strong, but maybe I can kick him. Maybe I could scream. But no one could probably hear me.
And on and on and on in an endless loop. The actual ‘encounter’ probably lasted less than a minute, but the moment haunted me right until I reached the cheery lights of my apartment complex.
The thing is: my experience isn’t uncommon. Too many women are afraid of returning at home after dark because “what if something happens?” Because as all women know only too well, even if something does happen, the victim is likely to be blamed. For being out late, for wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes, for any myriad number of reasons.
Reasons why our mothers insist we come home early. Reasons why women everywhere find their freedoms curtailed, their rights are taken away.
We can’t be talking about women’s safety and curtailing women’s freedoms in the same breath. Half of the country’s population can’t be trapped indoors after dark, whether out of fear or out of duty. It’s time we change this.
Women shouldn’t have to live in fear. You can change this. Your contribution can help start this change. Be a part of #TeamChange today. Donate now to start the change.