It was the chilly night of 16 December 2012 when we reached Delhi to catch mid-night flight to Bangkok on our way to Australia. By the time the news of the horrific crime on that cold winter night in Delhi broke out, we were far away in a distant land.
Blissfully unaware of the chilling details of the gruesome assault on the helpless girl in a moving bus, we were having a gala time in Bangkok. Thailand, though not a developed country, presented a picture quite different from India. The size of the women work-force in the malls, shops and restaurants was conspicuously large. I was surprised to see slim, petite young girls flaunting their beautiful legs in skirts and shorts, the length of their dresses barely exceeding one foot. What surprised me more was that these girls could move around without being harassed by staring glances and roving eyes. No ogling, no eve-teasing, no lewd remarks, it was just unbelievable.
Moving from Bangkok to Sydney, I was in for a greater cultural shock. Couples could be seen hugging and kissing in public but there was absolutely no trace of eve-teasing. Girls could be seen wearing all sorts of dresses, moving in company or all alone, travelling by day and night, but nobody stared at them. Skimpily clad men and women in bikinis lazing on the beaches was a common sight.
I cannot say there are no crimes against women in these countries but definitely women seemed to be enjoying greater freedom there. It is a fact that world over women constitute vulnerable section of the society but there is no doubt that the crime rate against women in India is one of the highest in the world. Many countries have issued advisory to their women against travelling to India due to safety concerns.
Be it markets, roads and especially public transport, women are subject to a lot of harassment in our country. I remember the time when I joined a reputed college in Jalandhar for doing masters. Though essentially a boys’ college at under graduate level, it was co-education for post graduation courses. I cannot forget the experience. With our eyes down cast as we used to walk in the campus, the heads of the boys would turn complete 180 degree from one side to another to stare at the girls. We felt as if we were alliens from a different planet.
It may be a small town or a big city, women in India feel more unsafe as compared to their counterparts elsewhere. The western world, which is less inhibited and more permissive towards mingling of the two sexes may have its own set of problems but is definitely safer for women. In contrast to the liberal West, Islamic countries are highly conservative but their strict laws are deterrent to crime against women. In India women are more prone to all kinds of sexual harassment, from eve-teasing to assault not only because our society is conservative with men having narcissistic mindset but also there is hardly any fear of law.
Published in Hindustan Times on 23 Dec 2013