Capital Shock

Will 2013 be the year of change for Delhi ?

The fun of year-end festivities and the holiday season has been completely killed. Instead, it's been a week of mourning and introspection for the entire nation, ever since the brutal assault on a young girl in Delhi. Tragedies happen everyday — floods in Orissa or farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh. Stories of rape and abuse are duly reported by Indian newspapers and forgotten by the jaded public before the day is over. So what is it about this particular case that has shaken and spurred all of India out of its stupor? And driven home the urgency, that something has to change, ASAP. The sheer audacity and unimaginable perversity of the attack, on an arterial road of Delhi, and the fighting spirit of a courageous young person has touched a chord with everyone. The unfairness of it all, a family shattered, the realisation that every girl out to an office, a party or a movie is at risk because the city's too few police officers are busier protecting VIPs than ordinary citizens. The outrage is a good start. Let's not knock the candlelight marches or efforts of regular people to effect a change. Similar sustained protests brought about a revolution in Egypt.

Every now and then, there's one heinous crime that creates an uproar, and things change for a while before falling back into the same depressing rut. Some years ago, when a Headlines Today news anchor was shot dead while driving, many girls I know decided, probably wisely, that it's too dangerous to drive at night. After all, every two bit criminal can purchase a local gun for less than Rs 1,000, capable of firing one fatal shot. Twenty years ago, after the Billa-Ranga case, when two siblings were molested and killed, all college students stopped hitchhiking. When systems don't work, you have no choice but to change your lifestyle accordingly. Any woman living in Delhi knows instinctively that it's an extremely dangerous place. There's a reason the Delhi Metro has a 'women's only' coach. Increasingly, those of us who are lucky enough to be able to afford it have begun to restrict ourselves to pockets, trying as much as possible to isolate ourselves from the realities of the city. You drive to work instead of taking public transport, go to a gym as opposed to a park and hang at a mall instead of a high street. I had a cousin working in the IT sector who'd moved from Mumbai to Delhi and I remember him telling me that during lunch break, some of his colleagues would stand on the balcony of their first-floor office and whistle at girls below. This is the level at which even educated people operate in this city.

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