The Battle Within

I’ll be honest. I couldn’t finish it.

I had bile churning in my stomach, my heart beating a million miles an hour, shortness of breath and such vehement, inexplicable anger that I didn’t know how to get a handle on it.

Every word I read was a personal attack on me- with every sentence, I kept thinking, ‘that could have been me. That could have been one of my friends.’

 Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

And today, as everyone sits and debates whether or not that ‘controversial’ documentary should be telecast or not- I’ll tell you how little has changed on the ground since Dec 16,2012. And why everyone reading this should care. Why this is my battle and why this certainly should be yours.

It’s 8pm. I’m in South Delhi trying to get home- which is less than 15 minutes away. The street lights don’t work- no rickshaw guy is willing to ferry you home for less than 150 rupees (the fare by meter? 50 rupees). With every passing moment, with every curious glance I get thrown my way, I’m getting antsier, more and more restless. When I finally do manage to haggle with an auto guy and get him to take me home, I choose to ignore the sleazy glances he’s throwing my way. Why? I’d rather be that one step closer to home. I call a friend on the way (just so someone knows where I am), memorize the face of the auto guy and his number and put on this air of absolute confidence when inside I’m anxious.

8:10pm: Nerves stretched as taut as they could be, I keep reminding myself that in less than 5 minutes I will be home and away from the furtive gaze of the auto driver. Bag clutched close to my chest, keys in my hand (you know, in case I need to defend myself), eyes alert at all times- I count down the seconds as we inch through the traffic.

Even once I get off outside my house, I’m not safe. It is dark, men standing outside give you a casual once-over- like it’s the most natural thing in the world for them to assess your appearance, catalog your appearance in that loathsome self assured manner- and all you’re thinking to yourself is ‘get inside. Get inside now.’

My heart is thumping, my palms are sweaty and this, when I’m less than 200 meters away from my house. I only feel reassured when I hear the lock to my front door click shut and I’ve checked the house to see that I’m home alone.

Once the fear ebbs away, the anger takes its place- slowly but surely. How long till strange men hold sway over my independence? How long till I look over my shoulder every two minutes to check if I’m being followed- even in broad daylight? How long till my decisions to go out to buy something banal for the house are dictated by what time it is? When does this city become mine? When do I get to breathe free and just be? When does my gender cease its death grip on my very existence? When?

I watched from the sidelines as Delhi and all of India took to the streets after that horrific gang-rape 2 years ago. I watched as men, women, children, the old and the young were united by outrage and grief. I saw seasoned journalists- people who had covered the most gruesome conceivable crimes- cry as they processed the horror of what those beasts had done to that poor girl. We called it the watershed moment in the fight for women’s right in India. We all said- enough is enough. We said ‘let’s take back the city for women. Let’s take back the night’.

What I experienced today is not new- it’s certainly does not compare to what happened that night two years ago on the streets of Delhi- but the sense of fear we live with is undeniable, immutable.

Tonight is not the last time that I will have come home terrified of the streets and feel a sense of acute relief only when back within the safe confines of my room. What’s tragic is that I also know, should I ever have a daughter, her life is going to be wracked with similar moments of dread and rage.

This is my reality.

Every. Single. Day.

You ask me what gender means to me? In moments like these, it’s a noose around my neck. It’s the anger pounding through my veins. It’s the sense of bafflement that the organ I was born with decides so much of where I can be at what time of the day, what I should wear, how alert I should be, who I should talk to and how I conduct myself.

It’s the sense of helplessness and the heart wrenching desire to NOT feel this way and that tiny kernel of hope in my heart, that maybe one day, this will be a country for women.

About Neha Poonia

Fledgling Journalist. Unapologetic Feminist. Devourer of the written word. Closet Time Traveler. I write to make sense of the chaos in my head and around me. ( @NehaPoonia on twitter)

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