Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is India Safe for Women?

I am not a woman, and I feel unsafe in India.


Because there is an atmosphere of pervasive thuggery and frustration in India, be it economic or sexual.  Because if you are in a big city, you have to be constantly on your guard lest somebody takes advantage of you.

Because if you let your guard down, somebody will:
  • Pick your pocket
  • Snatch your purse
  • Cut you off in traffic or nick/dent your vehicle
  • Hit you or get hit by you on the road
  • Overcharge you for a product or a service
  • Try to sell you a a fake, expired, underweight, stale, spoiled, adulterated, chemically altered, or otherwise mutilated product.
  • Encroach on your land, building, parking spot
  • Steal your spare tire, engine parts, battery, cleaning rag from your vehicle
  • Pick a fight with you so then you have to pay them as an apology
  • Get offended at something you said, sang or wrote
  • File a false rape case on you to grab your property
  • Hit you if you don't stand up for the national anthem
  • Bully you with blaring sirens and red/blue beacons to get off the road and let them get to the shopping mall first
  • Get ahead of you in a queue for a bus, train or cinema tickets
  • Dump garbage in front of your home
  • Blare loud music near your home
You get the idea.

Let's consider a theory that India is full of people who do not respect the dictates of civility or of law.  The extent of lawlessness or immorality might vary among individuals, but given the pervasiveness of this attitude, even an otherwise righteous man cannot but attempt to subvert the law.  To attempt to follow the law when everybody around you is breaking it doesn't go very far and very soon you will curse yourself and join the flow.

(See also the Broken Windows theory)

Note that just because you are a timid law-abiding uncle in one domain doesn't mean that you are not an evil Charles Sobhraj in others.  You might be self-righteous IT professional who just wants auto-wallahs to charge you by the meter for God's sake, while conveniently forgetting those fake medical bill and rental receipts that you procured to save some income tax.

Much of this lawlessness is born of poverty (even if historical) and of scarcity (even if perceived).  But once the cycle of lawlessness is allowed to run for a while, it becomes a vicious one.  To attempt to introduce order into this chaos is vehemently opposed by those who justifiably see themselves as victims in some domain, and therefore they do not agree that the victim-hood should stop with them.  They want to extract their pound of flesh for their past suffering before giving the green signal to a better society in the present and in the future.


If you are a man, you have to be careful to protect what you have or value: money, possessions, property, resources, time, mental space, parking spot, peace of mind, clean clothes, noise-free environment, whatnot.

Going further, let's also take into account the slightly unfashionable (but true) theory that sex is a resource that women possess and a resource that men compete for.

Put two and two together. Women have to not only protect against all that men have to, they have to protect their "honor" (read: sexuality) as well. If we consider dating and marital union to be a mutual contract, then brushing-against/stalking/molesting/suchlike is thievery of sexual favors. Obviously a woman will feel unsafe in such an environment.

As for staring, well, even men get stared at plenty if they happen to have something noticeable about them. But such staring is not "acquisitive". If we agree with the theory and observations of Baumeister et al, and they are sane in my opinion, a man has no sexual resource that he needs to protect against stares and "accidental" touches, which may escalate to a full-blown rape (at least in theory).

A woman, unfortunately for her, has always got something noticeable about her.  Her sexuality.  She can try to be more or less modest about it, and the more modest she is, the less likely it is that she will attract the attention of sexual thieves.  (And there is evidence that a moderately dressed woman finds it easier to gather white knights on her side, who sympathize with her in case of a sexual assault.)  But even if she dresses in a veil, it is not unlikely that some rather frustrated thieves will notice the sexual resources hidden just below the surface.

Women commonly complain against this environment where to dress provocatively is to, surprise, provoke unwanted sexual interest and thereby to be on the defensive all the time. Some women justifiably complain that to even go out in plain looking clothes is to be ogled at. They wonder why.

It is like a man saying that when he goes out in a Mercedes, he attracts the attention of vehicle thieves, but even when he just goes out on his scooter, they don't leave him alone. Should he even go out, he wails! I think he should consider the environment that he is living in.

I think India should be, by default, considered a dangerous environment (as is a war-zone) and that as far as possible, one should not go out. You are safe at home, somewhat. But outside your home, there is nobody to protect you and you are on your own. One must be always expect some harassment in India, mild or severe depending on various factors.

If it is a lawless environment, one has to act defensively. Yes, try to change the environment, but in the meanwhile, act defensively.

The situation is indeed depressing but in such an environment women do possess one advantage that men do not (other than the somewhat easier access to the police, at least in theory). Though women in such an environment have to contend with sexual predators, they can generally count on normal people becoming their protectors as well. If people see a woman in trouble, they are more likely to help than if they see a man in trouble. People don't need to analyze who is at fault before immediately trying to help a woman who is being sexually assaulted, whereas people can assume all kinds of reasons why a man is getting beaten by others. Maybe he is a thief, maybe he teased their female relative, maybe he is on drugs, and so on. So there are more dangers for women, but also more people willing to help.

Women might feel outraged that they need to be protected by other "men". They would want an environment when they feel safe by default. But India is not such an environment.

In India, it being a lawless land, both men and women feel unsafe and threatened. Women more so, because they have something more to lose.

If women wish to feel safer in India, they must join hands with men and ensure the rule of law not only regarding gender-related crimes, but regarding all crimes. There are systemic reasons why India is an unsafe, thuggish country, and passing more and more stringent laws will do little. Laws already exist to protect both men and women. There is, however, an almost total absence of any law-enforcement apparatus which works, swiftly and effectively, for the ordinary citizen.

Till that is fixed, India will continue to be unsafe for women, as well as for men.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that AADHAAR (Unique Identification Number) is a step in the right direction wherein people living in India will have a number through which they can be identified with. Up until this time, criminals could move to another part of the country and start living there after assuming another identity.