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Can I Travel Alone On Our City Streets? The Confessions Of An Indian Woman

Posted: September 14, 2017

Women are breaking glass ceilings everywhere, but what about safety on Indian streets in your own city? How does the modern woman navigate these?

I have read a lot about solo travel and I can’t say for sure its on my bucket list for now. Maybe with time it may find a place there. But today I want to use this space to introspect not just on travel to a different destination on a holiday but something as mundane and regular as travelling in your city.

While most of us do it day in and day out as we set off to work, in our own cars or scooter or a company bus or cab, or hire an Ola or Uber or our good old auto rickshaw – does every woman feel confident travelling alone on our streets?

A few weeks back my school friends were planning a reunion as one among us who lives in Bombay was in town. We decided to meet up at one of the friend’s place who was also hosting her daughter’s 3rd birthday, but the hitch was one lady who was with her 5 year old kid was not comfortable taking a cab and travelling in broad daylight this far (talking of roughly 25 kms)

Thinking of this friend who has always been kind of the one who will never go out alone and always need company, I recalled an incident a few years back when I visited her home in Bombay. Along with me, there was another girl friend of hers who was visiting Bombay for the first time. She was eager to see Siddhi Vinayak temple and go street shopping in Bandra.

I wasn’t able to accompany them as I had other plans with my relatives. The friend in question wanted her hubby to take them to these places but being Saturday he had half a day of office and wasn’t keen on taking the day off. He proposed that his wife and her friend catch a train and go to visit the temple, and post that he would meet them for lunch somewhere nearby. He could then take them for shopping.

Though not originally from Bombay this friend had been living here for quite sometime and had accompanied her hubby to this temple and the shopping street, travelling by local train and bus on numerous occasions, she was well versed with the local language and the trip was in broad daylight. Plus she was not alone. But she refused to travel without him; it gave her cold feet, she said. What if they get lost? I do not recall how they worked this out finally but it  me made me cringe to be honest when I thought of how dependent and helpless my friend was and what was most annoying was that it was her fault.

I have always been a fiercely independent woman and my job which requires me to travel occasionally to different countries has made me more resilient and confident. My maiden trip to a foreign country as a 24 year old on work was what I would call a truly liberating experience. From eating out alone to figuring out how to commute to work by changing a tram and train and sightseeing all by myself, it was quite an experience. Not that I enjoyed every bit of it but once I was back and saw myself as a more confident person, I knew where that change came from.

I would love to tell this travel solo story in detail but that’s for another day and another post. Today my post is more about travelling alone within our city and country.

My friend’s case made me think about the glaring gap between women in the same country, and from the same social strata – urban women, educated women, privileged women. What created this divide is not always the men and our society but sometimes it’s us women who are too scared to take a single step and explore the world beyond the realms of our home. This friend of mine has a daughter and I wonder – what example is she setting before the little girl?

As much progressive as I claim to be, when it comes to travelling in public transport in the late hours, I always get goosebumps. One thing I always wanted to learn is driving. Not just learn but be confident to reclaim the streets at any time of the day or night. I have resolved to take the first step and enroll for a driving class when I take my block leave which is a 2 week leave and gives me ample time to take these classes.

To be honest I hate being dependent on anyone for anything and till now apart from my fear of getting behind the wheel – a big reason I procrastinated was I never felt the need. Do you think I am nuts to drive in the maddening Bangalore traffic? I had an office cab which picked me up at the doorstep and dropped me to work. The 1.5 hours long journey was utilized to catch up on some sleep or plug in my iPod or chit chat with my colleagues. Imagine driving the entire stretch after a tiring day at work? I wouldn’t drive to work even if I knew driving. Weekends for me were usually spent going for a movie or dining, the places were nearby and my hubby drove so it was never a hassle. I ordered things online or hopped on my mom’s 2 wheeler for a quick trip to the saloon. For office parties as well transport was arranged so staying past midnight and worrying about safety was never an issue.

The issue started when I moved to Pune and discovered to my horror that there was no cab service. Travelling to work by Ola or Uber was easy, the problem began at night as my day usually ended past 10. There was no Ola or Uber in sight which meant I had to take a bus or sharing auto and then walk for 15 minutes. Apart from safety issues it was an inconvenience. I raised a hue and cry and thanks to a good manager, drop back home facility started.

This did not solve my issue completely though as when we had those quarterly team drinks and dinner, I was in a fix. I had to always depend on someone to drop me home as by the time we wound up it was usually past midnight. This made me feel I really need to drive but will that solve my problem completely? In this regard “no” as parties are the only time I get to set my foot loose, have a drink or two and put on my dancing shoes. Driving after having alcohol wouldn’t really be advisable. While I am aware that there are permissible limits, personally I wouldn’t be comfortable getting behind the wheel. This leaves me with only one option – of maintaining abstinence and restricting myself to mock tails that some of my girl friends who need to drive do as they longingly look at the rest of us enjoying our drink. Those of us who drive but want to drink hitch a ride with a male friend back home or the adventurous ones take a cab all by themselves, which would give me goosebumps. As much as I call myself independent and brave, when it comes to hiring a cab in the dead of the night and travelling alone in the streets of India I don’t feel safe. The length of my dress, does my cleavage show, should I have worn pants instead of this one piece – these questions haunt me and I hate it cos it doesn’t allow me to be who I am.

While driving will help make us more independent, and it’s a skill every person must learn, the bigger point I intend to make here is when will I see that day when I can roam the street carefree without worrying about the length of my dress or the fact that I had some alcohol? I recall my stay in Hong Kong and Switzerland where the time of the day was never a deterrent for a woman to go and claim the streets. I took a metro and taxi at 1.30 am on the last night before I left HK and not a crease of worry on my forehead there was!

As a mum of a daughter, I do wish that as she grows up I don’t spend my nights worrying about her safety on Indian streets when she is out but I can sleep blissfully knowing that she is safe in our city. Will I and other mums around see that day?

Published here earlier.

Image source: pixabay

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