On Twitter today, I spotted this image that epitomizes the problems women face in Delhi.
Take a bow, Delhi ladies, for being so creative & graceful while putting us in our place. twitpic.com/bzka8k
— AM (@cyclingsultan) January 30, 2013
At first glance, most will agree with the sentiments expressed by the person sharing the image. But then you think beyond the rage that certain current events in Delhi have wrought upon the nation and you begin to understand the gradual yet unmistakable tearing of the urban fabric. Looking past the misguided message that the sign implies (why should the leecher go home and stare at his sister?), it indicates problems that may soon be the undoing of a great city like Delhi. No longer do people perceive it safe for anyone let alone women to be out in the streets. I have always thought the situation to be a bit overblown but as Gone Native suggests, it might not be so:
@patrix The problem is bad here. Most women’s priority is safety & comfort. Sadly, not how wary it might make the well-meaning men.
— Gone Native (@_GoneNative) January 30, 2013
The situation in Delhi now assumes all men are lecherous. If you even happen to look at a woman for a second longer, you might be a potential rapist. There is no way any settlement will remain amicable if you view your fellow denizens suspiciously. If safety is the first thought that pops in your head after a simple and innocent act of simply looking at a person then any further contact is automatically voided. We live in dense cities because we value human companionship and being social animals, we thrive by being around people, even the ones we know nothing about. It is this unspoken camaraderie that defines any city’s social fabric and attracts people from other places. At times, these relationships are economic, and at times, they are cultural but nevertheless social interaction is what keeps people living next to each other in close quarters. Otherwise, this earth is large enough to have more than a dozen acres for each one of Earth’s seven billion people.
But when half of the population i.e. the women are compelled to view the other half i.e. men suspiciously all the time, like it seems to be in Delhi right now, there is an unmistakable tear in the invisible ties that bind us. If safety is our only motive then security check-points at every public square or cops swarming any public park would be considered optimal but would we want to hang out in such a public square or amble along in such a pubic park? Soon the city will wither away and die a slow and sad death.
I have no definite solution for this problem and for the sake of Delhi, I hope they find one soon. Perhaps the answer lies in strict and reliable law enforcement that will win back the confidence of the people. Ensuring safety and well-being without having to look over your shoulder is the primary responsibility of the state. It is why we pay taxes and obey laws. But when the state fails at this basic duty, society begins to unravel. Delhi has always been a resilient city and has withstood worse problems but mostly, those threats have been external. These problems fester within and the responsibility of regaining Delhi’s spirit lies with its people as much as it does with the state governing it. I hope they succeed.