Are you afraid of the dark?


I was on my way back home from my place of work when I started thinking of the topic for my next blog. It was 8:30PM and I had just finished answering separate calls from my husband, mother and father in law respectively on my expected time of arrival. That’s when I realized how all of us ignore most of the everyday occurrences’ staring at us in our face.

 The fact that so many of my family members needed to be reassured of my safety in the late evening on what was a routine daily trip spoke volumes of the unconscious societal stereotypes and behaviors forced upon even the most unwilling of the society’s members. The tragic Nirbhaya incident and the routine press stories we hear of how women in the villages no longer feel secure enough to step outside of the safety of their homes for even the most basic of bodily needs points to an important fact.

 We Indians are afraid of the dark. Afraid of trusting our personal safety and the safety of our possessions to the collective conscience of the society. Afraid that the legal system of rules and jurisprudence no longer grant us the protections they ought to, in reality. And even more afraid of the consequences in the aftermath of an unfortunate incident, sometimes as mundane as a pick-pocketing.

 That set me thinking. Is this really the best of what a society of 5000 years of cultural evolution can produce? Or is it just an accepted fact that in a society where economic, gender and other inequalities abound of Goliath proportions; its just an unfortunate by-product?

 During my travel to other Asian countries such as Japan and Hong Kong (China), I have often undertaken trips that had me riding the trams, trains and other public transportation well past midnight. Never have I had the sense of lingering menace that I have had traipsing the roads of “mera bharat” cities. Even the notorious Thai roads offer the relative ease derived from continuous police patrols.

 So, why is it that law-abiding Indians suffer this menace of unsafe roads after dark and bad infrastructure in the light? Is it because we as a society collectively have poor expectations of those in charge? Education is supposed to be a great economic equalizer among all the sections of the society. So why is it that a highly educated and fairly prosperous city bred woman such as myself face the same physical insecurities as an illiberal and often illiterate woman of rustic origins? Why is it that we have the twin paradoxes of hyper security arrangements for anyone of the smallest import and the extreme insecurity among the normal citizens?

 The usual suggestions for improving the security situation has already failed – increased patrolling has not stopped our daily diet of unfortunate incidents dominating the news cycles in our country. Nor has multiple educational campaigns succeeded. The nation has even watched with disgust as politician after politician squarely laid the blame on the victim of a tragedy in uncouth terms. Clearly massive societal change doesn’t seem likely if those who are in charge of enforcing our rules are the biggest cheerleaders of the bigotry that has contributed to the current mess. Spirituality though raging unchecked like a wild fire across the country is flawed and has been proved in many cases to be flawed because the guru has been exposed as a closet exploiter. The import of such a pseudo-guru’s teachings can be imagined.

 So, what is it that we the hapless women can do? As much as I know how much my answer will stimulate the rightful anger feminists, here is my take – hunker down. One of my closest friends gave me a piece of sage advice a few months back in a different context when she remarked that all of us women have to learn the unwritten rules in the corporate environment in the offices we work in, if we want to survive and succeed.

 Consider what our religion has taught us so far – we have “Maha Purushottam Ram” – a devoted husband and a dedicated follower of dharma and swadharma whose divinity is undisputed. We also have “Makhan Chor Krishna” – who wed 16,108 wives and who taught us to follow our swadharma even and especially if its completely contrary to what is held as the “established” dharma.

 Similarly, as much as we should yearn and strive for complete empowerment, changing the minds and hearts of our nation through effort, we should still learn to play by the rules privately, the man on the street sets, if we want to stay safe and continue to lead rich, fulfilling lives.

 While that might sound hypocritical with contrasting private and public personas, that’s in tandem with the Indian culture’s ability to thrive amidst a richly contrasting mish-mash of ideas and a hodgepodge of viewpoints.

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