On my way back home from a party around half past one in the morning, I thoroughly looked for a cab, but couldn't find one. So I decided to walk some distance. Scared out of my wits, I could never imagine doing anything like that in India. Unfamiliar with the roads, I kept walking. I was aware that Brighton is one of the safest cities in England. But how safe could it be, I wondered, for a woman lost on the streets at midnight?
The fear has ingrained itself. To reach home before it gets dark, to not go out at night, to always ask a male friend to accompany, if it gets too late. This has not been thrust upon me; this is what I have embraced myself, like any other Indian woman. There are recurring warnings, and we are discouraged from being too audacious and extrovert. If ever the fear recedes, another assault and a lesson is learnt. 'She was out at night, her clothes were too revealing, she was drunk, she had gone out with men'. So we have adapted to being confined to our homes
The scenario isn't too bleak either. We (urban middle class) do get equal opportunities as men. We get best possible education. Many of us get to work. Some women are fortunate enough to get everything, majority gets absolutely nothing. Partying, going out at night, coming late defies the moral standards of an Indian woman and only a woman of loose character go as far as consuming alcohol (it's okay for men).
Nevertheless, urban women are increasingly breaking the barriers. They are competing with men in all arena of life. They are flouting the norms and redefining the status quo. Coincidentally, crime rate against woman is also escalating. Suddenly, there is a sense of déjà vu in the moral brigade of the civil society. 'Women are better off at home. What else do they expect if they wander alone, wear revealing clothes or get drunk? They are ought to be raped!'
In the middle of nowhere, I still couldn't find a taxi. I gulped with fear and cursed my callous attitude. It has been a few months in Britain and I am still not familiar with the roads. I could have asked someone to drop me home, but didn't. Finally, I spotted a taxi and immediately jumped onto the backseat.
On having returned home safely, I promised myself, I will never go out after dark. In England that actually means, I will never go out at all! However, when I sit back and recall the night, not at one instance did I encounter a suspicious move or an uncomfortable gaze. Nobody had anything to do with me; no one cared. I am not a prey here!
I won't keep the promise for long, I guess. We can't so much as live in fear all the time. It's time to break free of the paranoia. Things will be different when I go back to India. I will be told to mend my ways and to stay in my limits. Having confronted my fears, I will try and keep up the attitude, on the face of it. It may take a long time before every woman can feel safe to stand alone on the streets after dark, but sooner or later, there will be a day.