Sure, Slam Moral Guidelines, But Women Must Heed Safety Guidelines

Women walk along a street in New Delhi. (MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Outrage against moral advisories is justified and needed. But why the outrage against safety guidelines?

Would anyone – man or woman – leave home without locking the door? Would anyone – man or woman – park one’s car and go off, leaving it either unlocked or without using the gear/steering lock? Do all of us not take basic safety precautions when using sundry, day-to-day devices – electric appliances, lighting the gas? Do we not, out of sheer habit, cross the road only after looking out for traffic? Don’t women in Mumbai locals get off the train if they find themselves alone in a women’s compartment and sometimes get into a general compartment?

Rhetorical questions with obvious answers.

So why would any woman, in Delhi of all the places, ask for a lift from a complete stranger in the dead of night, as the latest victim of rape in Delhi appears to have done? This is not an isolated example. There have been several cases in the recent past where women have been raped after taking lifts from strangers.

I am a Dilli-wali, well on the wrong side of 50. And yet, even at this age, I will never, ever, risk taking even an Ola Share or Uber Share, even in broad daylight, let alone night. I will balk at sharing the close confines of a cab with strangers. I am a Dilli-wali and I know there are some things I should just not do in my city. Taking lifts from strangers – even mere acquaintances – is one of them. Taking lifts from friends/relatives may not be that safe either, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

These incidents are not about a girl walking home and being dragged into a passing tempo, as happened in the sensational Dhaula Kuan rape case. It is not about a girl getting into what seemed to be a bus with some passengers with her male friend only to find those were not passengers but friends of the driver, as happened in the 16 December gang-rape case. This is not about a woman booking an Uber and getting raped by the driver. This is not about an actress all-but abducted by her driver and molested, as happened recently in Kerala.

This is about women courting danger by either flagging down a passing car or accepting the offer of a lift by the driver of a passing car.

No, this article is not casting aspersions on the latest victim of rape in Delhi or the women in the other similar incidents. This article will not get into where these women worked, how they dressed, what they were doing out so late (in some cases they had just finished their work shifts), and how they were behaving. They have every right to work where they want, dress as they want, go out with friends at night (when else can one go out for a bit of relaxation, for heaven’s sake?). This is not a blame-the-woman article.

But, let’s take a deep breath and think for a minute.

There is a difference between moral advisories and safety advisories. Unfortunately, the issue of rape against women is such a charged one that both often invite the same levels of outrage. They should not.

Moral advisories to women after every incident of rape about how they should dress and behave are quite, quite objectionable and certainly deserve all the outrage they invite. So should orders like the one the Gurgaon administration issued in 2012 after a rape incident, saying women should not work after 8 pm. Better sense prevailed and the order was withdrawn some days later.

But safety advisories are another matter altogether. After all, we don’t get worked up over police advisories about securing our homes and vehicles, servant verification, registration of senior citizens, not flaunting jewellery while walking down a road, not eating food offered by strangers in trains and buses, do we?

Following these advisories does not absolve the police or others meant to ensure our security from their responsibility. But the police can come into the picture only after a crime is committed. The police cannot be patrolling every inch of a city’s streets or watching over every home. Better and more intensive policing will certainly discourage criminals, but it will still not completely eliminate crime. Better street lighting and better public transport facilities will reduce women’s vulnerability to crime, but that too cannot completely eliminate crime.

The point is simply this: there are men out there who will try and sexually exploit women who are in vulnerable situations – stranded at night without transport is one. They think it is perfectly okay for them to demand a sexual price for the favour they do. These men don’t understand ‘No Means No’ kind of concepts of consensual sex. It is best that women don’t put themselves in situations where they have to deal with such men.

At a macro level, women should demand better policing, better lit streets, more and better public transport.

But at an individual level, women, wherever they are, need to follow some rules:

If you are going out late at night, try to get someone to accompany you; if not, let someone know where you are and where you will be.

Don’t seek or accept lifts from strangers.

When in a cab, sms details to someone, pretend to be talking to someone.

If you are stranded alone and can’t call a friend or relative, call 100 or a women’s helpline.

Be careful about striking up conversations with strangers.

Be aware of your surroundings and people around you when you are walking down a road. Don’t be engrossed in a telephone conversation.

Be careful about what you say in telephone conversations in buses, metros, cabs or any public places.

(The last two because of the sensational kidnap drama of an ecommerce company executive in NOIDA some time back. The girl had been unaware of a person stalking her while he was well aware of her routine, her male friend, her family etc.)

A lot more can be added to this list, which have nothing to do with dress or other behavioural issues.

There is no point saying why not tell men not to do x, y, z. They know they are not supposed to and they still do it. Unless you are a self-defence expert, you are the vulnerable one. There’s no getting away from that.

We women still live highly constricted lives and must constantly battle to expand our freedoms. But along with that freedom comes a responsibility to ourselves, our own safety.

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