A world of hostility

One is left numbed after reading the facts and figures on violence against women. Yet it is easy to gloss over the statistics and move on to reading about what else is wrong with the country — corruption, inefficiency and other such malaises. What is not easy to forget, especially for women themselves (and yes, there is a gender difference here), are the graphic details of various forms of violence perpetrated against them. Delhi has seen extreme examples of such violence against female infants, children and older women, leaving no demographic untouched. Understanding the depravity of the perpetrators may need individual psychological attention, but it would do nothing to reverse the harm done to the victims.

Descriptions of the latest gang-rape in Delhi, which has left a young girl fighting for her life, suggest that for a woman who steps out of the house, every male is a possible predator. Delhi's statistics show that this may not be far from the truth. She may try her best to avoid the unwelcome gaze, to forget the muttered sexual obscenities and fend off physical advances with not much more at her command than a dirty look if she is not to simply resign herself to enduring their behaviour.

Is India, and at this moment, Delhi, a difficult place for a woman? It is hard to answer in the negative. As women take on new roles and greater responsibilities, they need to be out in public space more, not less. Yet public spaces are threatening and unfriendly. If they reduce their use of this space, they concede victory to the perpetrators who get further emboldened, especially given the lack of any real punishment. If, on the other hand, they decide not to back down and insist on exercising their right to be in public space as citizens, they run the risk of being raped. They face the unenviable choice between missing out on life and labour opportunities and facing physical and emotional violence.

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