The beasts among us

Updated: 26 September, 2020 07:17 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

If there is one kind of person everyone in India is most terrified about, it is the single woman living on her own in the city

Representation pic/getty images
Representation pic/getty images

picAsk any single woman you know what life in India is like. It doesn't matter which part of the country she is in because the only thing that will change is the level of depravity she must confront and deal with on a daily basis.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, it will only to those who haven't been listening. I would suggest you track the news, but that is no longer a viable solution given that much of what masquerades as journalism now is little more than an exercise in whitewashing.

Thousands of young women from across India come to Bombay daily, or used to before the pandemic, because of how our city likes to call itself the safest for women in the country. This may evenhave been true a long time ago, because there weren't that many young women living on their own, working for a living far from home, or lucky enough to be financially independent. The rise in the number of women doing all of these things has coincided with the deep insecurity and inferiority complex that Indian men have struggled to hide for centuries.

It doesn't take much to trace the roots of what has always been a fairly blatant history of misogyny that runs through modern India. Back when the British were around, our men came up with the brilliant idea of countering the subservience they had to show their white masters with the obedience women had to show them in the confines of their homes.

They couched this well, proclaiming Indian women to be the model of propriety, people who would never talk back, raise their heads or their voices, and maintain the purity of our race against the onslaught of those unclean foreigners.

Women have been calling out this inane argument for decades, but it doesn't seem to have had an impact going by what is now a daily occurrence. Ask any single women you know how they managed to rent an apartment, for example. Ask them what they had to deal with, whether they found brokers cooperative, and whether they were judged by apartment owners or neighbours. Their responses may tell you enough about Indian society to disabuse you of the notion that we care about women.

I have a friend who struggled to find a place to live for months because every society she applied to assumed she was going to turn her rented accommodation into a mini-disco or a temporary brothel. They all had problems with the idea of friends coming over, which is a denial of one's human rights, not to mention that no law mentions anything of the sort.

When she did find a place, she was subjected to intense scrutiny from the watchmen to neighbours who lived on her own floor as well as the floors above and below. Her maidservant was questioned about her habits, as if this wasn't a working professional but a spy sent in by a neighbouring country. Spies probably manage to get in easier anyway, given how afraid our government is of admitting to infiltration these days.

Ask single women you know about what it means to travel on their own, not on a holiday — because that is a whole other story — but from their homes to offices anywhere in the city. Ask them how they are treated by cab and rickshaw drivers or fellow passengers on public transport, all of whom seem to assume that any woman who isn't a relative is someone who wants to be brushed against or touched against their wishes.

We are a depraved, sexually repressed country. Our state of constant denial goes a long way towards condoning the extreme violence women are being subject to daily because none of us can be bothered to speak up.

It is only when someone we know is hurt by the actions of the men who walk among us that we realise how far we have fallen. It is only then that we can fathom why India is now one of the most dangerous places on the planet for women.

This year has been awful on all kinds of fronts. Millions have lost their livelihoods, economists are predicting more chaos in the months to come, and everything we took for granted just a few years ago has been taken away from us. And yet, all our television screens over the past couple of months featured what they thought was the only thing worth focusing on. A single woman.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 26 September, 2020 04:22 IST

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