Every time a woman is attacked for rejecting someone’s advances, for standing up for herself, for fighting back, for saying “no”, we are told that the world is a terrible place and that we as women should be careful.
We are told it is “not all men”, as if that were a necessary clarification.
We are given a list of safety precautions – what to wear, how to speak, where to go, whom to trust, and each of these is accompanied by a “when” and a “why”.
The problem is, irrespective of the number of precautions a woman takes, she is never allowed to feel safe.
A violation is even more severe when it happens in a place one associates with safety – one’s home, one’s office, a public place.
An attack is even more shocking when it is carried out by someone one trusts – a friend, a colleague, a relative, a security guard.
The idea that a woman working in a company of Infosys’ repute could be strangled at her desk with a computer cable by a security guard is chilling.
A month ago, Antara Das, an employee of Capgemini was killed as she was returning from work at night.
A few months ago, Goa-based perfumer Monika Ghurde was attacked in her home, tortured and killed over hours, by a former security guard.
A few months before that, a woman from Gurgaon said she had been raped and blackmailed by a cab driver employed by her company in Manesar over two years.
All these women were in environments that ought to have been safe.
All of them did things any of us might do – asked a security guard not to stare; answered a doorbell; accepted water from a trusted company driver.
None of them is responsible for what happened to her.
The problem is that no one is willing to take up responsibility, and no one is willing to find a solution.
The safety of working women has been called into question ever since the rape and murder of Hewlett Packard employee Pratibha Srikanth Murthy on December 13, 2005. She was leaving for a night shift by what she believed was a company cab.
Across India, companies brought in regulations to ensure the safety of women on night shifts.
Yet, eleven years later, Antara Das was murdered while returning home after a shift. Why did her employers not ensure that she was dropped home when it was late in the evening?
With companies constantly cutting costs to increase their margins of profit, many have stopped their own cab services, choosing to reimburse employees for travel or outsourcing the pick-ups and drops to other cab companies instead. Obviously, background checks on the drivers are not considered the responsibility of the company any longer.
Demands for equality in the treatment of employees cannot be met for as long as women are targeted by predators. Why was Rasila working on a day when she was supposed to be off? If it was so important for her to be on call, could she not have worked from home instead of coming to a deserted office? And how can the monitoring of the workplace be so lax that she could be murdered by someone who was supposed to protect her?
Every time a woman is killed in a place where she could consider herself safe, everyone has ideas about what must be done to prevent a recurrence.
The employer promises to install panic buttons, CCTV cameras, safety apps, and every other security measure one can think of.
Compensation is paid.
Arrests are made.
And yet, nothing will bring back the life that has been taken.
Every single time, the onus is shifted back to women and what they must do and what they must not do.
After the horrific Delhi bus rape of 2012, at every discussion on the subject, there was that voice which said, with all the right disclaimers and all the right apologies, that it should not have happened, but why did she have to take public transport so late at night? It should not have happened, but why did she have to go to such a late show when she knew she had a long distance to travel back home? It should not have happened, but why did someone who spent so much on watching a film hesitate to take a cab back home?
There is no ‘but’. It should not have happened.
Let him stare, they say, because at least he has not attacked you. Let him steal, they say, because you never know what he may do. Let him catcall, they say, because if you try to put him down, he may attack you with acid.
There is no justification for violence. There is no need to ‘let’ anyone do anything.
The women of this country are not safe in places where they ought to be safe.
We are not safe on the roads, despite police checkpoints.
We are not safe in our homes, and we are not safe in our workplaces.
How many Jessica Lals and Priyadarshini Mattoos and Rasila Rajus will it take before someone is held accountable?
Read More by the Author: