Sugandha (illustration: Rajat Goel), December 8, 2011
After a number of failed attempts to reach Delhi’s chief minister, NTMN was finally given the opportunity to meet Sheila Dikshit last week. After a heated interview about the state of women in the city, for which she blamed girls and women for wearing provocative clothes and going out alone at night, here is how this reporter challenged the chief minister:
“Here’s the plan. For one day, you’ll not be the CM. You’ll be an ordinary woman. A veiled woman. With me, you will travel like an ordinary working woman has to. In the Metro, in public buses, on the roads and so on. Whatever happens next, will come on its own.”
Sheila Dikshit spends a day as an ordinary woman: our reporter’s account
True to her words, Mrs Dikshit had come veiled that morning. Wise enough, she could still see through her veil. Just what the plot needed. I admit, it was exciting to get the chief minister of Delhi live my life, even if for a day.
We planned to start out from the Janakpuri metro station towards Rajiv Chowk. For that, we first had to board a bus for Janakpuri. Half an hour passed by, but there was no bus coming. The first that came was already over-brimming with men hanging here and there. Not having the courage to travel in it, we chose to wait. I informed her this is how I usually miss my first class at college – wait for half an hour for the bus to come, and when it does, there’s no chance of getting in.
Finally, a bus came. It was decently crowded, so we boarded it. With great difficulty, we managed to get our ticket. Actually there were so many people pestering the conductor from all directions with ticket-requests that it was a challenge to get ours and not be stared at real bad. Finally, we went and stood near the ladies’ seats. Two young boys sat on one. I tried staring at them, and then at the label that marked the seat as a ladies’ seat, to indicate to them that they need to freaking get up. But they continued discussing movies with their earphones plugged in, pretending that they haven’t seen us. Mrs Dikshit then asked them to get up as it was a ladies’ seat. She had to shout twice before they started to get up, that too when their own bus-stop was close enough.
We sat. Sheilaji was on the window-side. A few minutes later she sprang up from her seat, bewildered. I asked what had happened. She didn’t say a word, just gave the man sitting in the seat behind us really deadly looks. When we got down from the bus, she told me, the man had been trying to touch her from the side of the seat. I asked her, why she didn’t retort. She didn’t reply. I assume, it is difficult to be all daring and stuff when you’re not the CM.
We reached the metro platform. When the first train came, it was all so badly crowded, as the route normally is at that time of the day. We had just reached the platform when the train came, so couldn’t reach the ladies’ compartment. Sheilaji said, let’s get into the general coach. I was dubious, but obliged.
It was nightmarish. With stinking staring men all around, and no one seemed to have any courtesy for the fact that we were two ladies stuck in a crowd of men. I secretly hoped that the ladies’ seat in the coach might come to our avail, but with the ladies’ compartment in operation, it was a sin to even imagine something like that. I jokingly said to Sheilaji, the ladies’ coach in metros has set up new definitions for men in the city. Many of them are under the impression that except for the first compartment, the whole train is reserved for them.
For the entire journey upto Rajiv Chowk, we had to stand. I winced somewhere about it, considering Sheilaji’s age. But then, there was hardly anything I could do about. There is hardly anything I am able to do in such situations anyway.
At Rajiv Chowk, it was a challenge to get out of the train. To top it, we were in the “general” coach, so those waiting outside were mostly (wild, impatient) men. As soon as the gate opened, the entire crowd bustling with impatience tried to force their way in – thus kicking and pushing and knocking the ones inside. Amid all the chaos, when we were about to find our way, somebody pushed Sheilaji real hard from the front, she was about to fall. It was bad.
We went to a few places from there. Travelling in autos, buses, rickshaws, I made it a point that our honourable CM gets to face all that an ordinary Delhi woman normally has to. Be it the cunning autorickshaw-driver who demands a lot more money than that charged by the meter (knowing that she wouldn’t have the grit to get into a dirty fight) or the rickshaw-puller who will be singing weird songs all along or worse still, the street-men who would try to follow you/touch you and if someone’s day is bad, then maybe even misbehave with you. These are things that not every woman suffers in the city, but the painful fact is, there are things that women do suffer in the city.
The most crucial time was here. It was 7 pm and we were stuck somewhere. No auto, no bus and the road was pretty deserted. Wintry deserted roads are the scariest thing about Delhi. We stood there at the bus-stop. Several cars passed by. Just then, a Honda City, with a gang of guys – possibly drunk – and music playing in full swagger, came. It almost stopped in front of us. Somebody passed a lewd remark, somebody else invited us to join in. Sheilaji suggested teaching them a lesson, scolding them. I warned her to behave wisely, we were alone and nobody was going to come out and help anyway. “But how can we just withstand all this?” she asked. Try your helpline numbers, I said.
Thankfully, that passed by. We saw an auto somewhere and started walking towards it. Just then, god knows from where, a super speeding bike came, stopped near us and within a fraction of a second, did something. It took us some moments to realise what had happened. The guys just snatched the gold chain our CM was wearing. She looked at me bewildered. I said, let’s just be happy that they spared us. We saw a PCR somewhere, but honestly, the policemen were no less scary. Clearly in a drunk state and ogling at women like an ordinary sick-minded man, they offered the least respite from the fear we went through, then.
The day was over. I didn’t have to do a single thing to let our CM know of the fear, the wrath we have to go through, living in this city.