I’m a woman who lives in Delhi, who uses public transport on a daily basis. Who, till 2008, commuted between Delhi and Gurgaon for 5 years – at a time when public transport to and from Gurgaon consisted mainly of Haryana Roadways buses that were usually so crowded that one worried about falling out and the more frequent but very shady call-centre vans driven illegally and rashly. There was no metro and regular DTC buses were few and far between. So it was a choice between standing with people pressing in on all sides (and me approximately at the height of their armpits) and sitting in the world’s most terrifying contraption. In desperate moments, I have stupidly taken these buses and vans as late as 11 pm, when I should have just called my mother and braved her panicked yelling. I remember being huddled in my tiny amount of space with my arms folded tightly across my chest, bag pulled up to my chin, staring straight ahead, not making eye contact with anyone. I remember being felt up, groped, "innocently" brushed past, stared at almost daily. I remember telling off the men in question, and their argument that it was a crowded bus, not my private car, so I should not expect space. I remember insincere apologies delivered with a leer. I do also remember many nice, helpful people (women and men) who gave me their seat, who held my bag for me, who argued for the women’s seats to actually be used by women. And today, I think I have been lucky.
Once I moved out of Gurgaon, I swore never to take those buses or vans again, and I haven’t. But the fear has not gone away. I still hesitate to argue with an auto-rickshaw driver who asks for more money at the end of my journey – because he has dropped me home and knows where I live. I think twice before telling my office cab driver to drive a bit more carefully – because I am the last person to be dropped back on my route. Even when I do argue, as is my instinct, I later regret it and thank someone up there that nothing happened. I have been lucky. But I am constantly afraid that my luck will run out. And that fear, that gnawing, ever-present fear, is what makes India no country for women.