I have been in Delhi for almost eleven years now. I did my undergraduate study in Delhi followed by post graduation in Mumbai and now I am back again to Delhi to be a part of the workforce. Delhi is special to me. It is the city where I first experienced what it means to be navigating through the world on my own. I had moved out of home and was living in a hostel in Delhi. I was a college going student who would use the public transport on a daily basis. I was a college student who loved exploring the city. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with her friends. Each day was a new experience, sometimes an experience of standing on a crowded bus stop for three hours waiting for the bus and sometimes driving on empty wide roads with a friend late at night. All of these experiences led to me knowing the city, at the back of my hand. I learnt my ways to navigate the city and I knew I had learnt how to manage living independently in this city.
After three years of living a life of independence and exploration, I was in love with the city. But then, I moved to Mumbai for my post graduation. My two years in Mumbai were a different journey altogether and now I have yet another city I hold very dear to me. I can go on and on writing about why I love Delhi and why I love Mumbai but that is a story for another time. There was a very specific change that happened in my life as I moved from one city to another. My life in Mumbai was a time when my friends and family were much more at peace about my safety. I am not saying that there was no fear. But, what was not there was paranoia, which came back when I moved back to Delhi. My goodness! I still remember the phase when I was planning my move back to Delhi. All the ‘safety’ talk came gushing back into my life.
The return of the incessant ‘safety’ talk made me think. I have had the opportunity to live in the two cities which are placed at the opposite ends of the spectrum when the topic of ‘women’s safety’ is discussed. Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi is unsafe. Mumbai is safer. We have all heard this. And, a lot of us also probably have very valid reasons to believe this. Now, as a 23 year old woman I too believe that my mobility was less restricted in Mumbai than Delhi. But, the point is that these restrictions do not come from me or me feeling unsafe. These restrictions come from the perception that people, who worry about my well being, hold about Delhi. These restrictions come from the standard that has been set for Delhi, of being an unsafe city for girls and women.
I am not saying Delhi is safe and all of it is one big hype. I am very well aware of the everyday challenges that girls and women have to face as they navigate Delhi or for that matter any other city. While some cities fare better, Delhi has consistently continued to live up to the standard of being the ‘rape capital’. Post the Delhi gang rape case in 2012 there was an uprising. People took to the streets. A lot of substantive changes came about. But today as I write this, I ask, as people leading our lives in Delhi, are we challenging this standard that has been set or are we simply moulding our lives to match up to it?
Delhi is aggressive. Delhi is unreasonable. Delhi is a pain, a lot of times. But it is also a city I choose to trust. It is a city I love. It is a city where I have taken risks and will continue to take risks. I know my city. I am certain that I can take care of my well being in this city. I know things are not so bright and there are potential threats and dangers all around, but the point is that I know and I know what to do in case if something happens. So, the incessant “Oh, it’s not safe, where are you, what is the car’s number, who are you with, what time will you be back, who is standing behind you” has to stop. I know it’s a big bad world, but I have my ways of being in this big bad world, where I often choose to take a risk, where I choose to trust, where I choose to be fearless and so, don’t tell me that I am nothing but an ignorant fool.
I refuse to mould my way of being to meet a standard of Delhi being unsafe. Delhi is much more. Delhi can be much more. And if someone wants to give it the chance to be that, don’t meddle. And if in case something does go wrong, don’t even dare to put the blame on the one who chose to trust. The one who chose to be fearless.
It’s time we change the narrative. Rather than reiterating just how unsafe it is, or labeling places as ‘rape capitals’, maybe we can work towards being better and come up with labels which sing of hope and not despair!
Even if it feels overwhelming, you can make a difference. Take the first step. Come and be a part of #TeamChange.