This piece has been written by Shruti Kunisetty (Batch of 2022).
To the uninitiated, PESIT idli [“Pesit”] refers to a famous idli stall on the Hosakerehalli Road (try pronouncing it) that sells idlis for 30 odd bucks. It’s open only between 4 and 6 am. To your average lawschoolite, it offers the perfect culmination to a long night of slogging.
Here is what a typical Pesit plan for men looks like:
Man 1: Bro, let’s go to Pesit!
Man 2: Yeah, let’s!
Here is how women plan to go to Pesit:
Woman 1: Let’s go to Pesit?
Woman 2: Cool, with whom?
Woman 1: The 3 of us?
Woman 3: Umm… is it safe? It’s going to be dark also…
Woman 1: Fair enough, Uber or something?
Woman 2: Still dude, there have been horrible incidents with Uber/Ola also.
Woman 3: Ya dude, better safe than sorry, we can just go sometime later with the guys.
This was the conversation I have had about half a dozen times since I came to law school and heard about Pesit. After spending an year and a half, I have gone to Pesit once, when a few guys decided to introduce this place to us. Today, after some thought, my roommate (hereinafter referred to as Ash) and I decided that it was worth a shot and we cannot just wait forever. After returning, I felt liberated and how! But wait… why was going 4.5 kms away from the campus to eat a simple breakfast so liberating? Why is it that something that is an everyday thing for men my age be an event that has prompted me to write a 1000 word article? Before I begin, it would be useful to clarify that this is not just another rant merely about how men ‘have it all’ and women don’t. It is not about how safe spaces are a rarity for women. On the contrary, it is about how privilege permeates even the most insignificant aspects of our day-to-day lives. How we have internalised the possibility of harassment to such a degree that it governs even the most fundamental of our actions.
So we finally decided that we were ballsy enough to embark upon this much-coveted journey fraught with unimaginable hurdles (sexual predators, mainly). We set out, obviously, with our wallets and Swiss knives (obviously). Once we were in the auto, we had efficiently divided our roles – I was to keep the GPS on to ensure we are on the right track and Ash was to keep an eye on the driver (our potential doom). Finally we reached, reaped the fruits of our labour and met a junior (male) who had chosen to go solo with whom we returned. And here comes an interesting twist, on our way back neither had I turned the Google maps on, nor did Ash clutch the knife in her pocket. Why? Male presence – the presence of a younger man seemed to have secured our safety more than any weapon could have.
There are only two explanations I can possibly think of – first, a general notion that we all seem to agree upon is that sexual predators refrain from acting in the presence of a man. Second, fear of being an ‘akeli ladki’ (or in this case ladkiyan) ingrained so deep into our minds that we perceive danger literally everywhere.
So why have narrated this and what is it that I want? In my opinion, it is high time we change the way we perceive ‘safety’. Because let’s face it, no matter how optimistic we are, we are not going to live to see a day when women have just the same safety considerations as men. Does that mean we restrict our movements and actions in order to ‘ensure our safety’? I do not think that’s a reasonable proposition to make.
Then there is this the ‘Better Safe than Sorry’ Syndrome. If I had a dollar for every time someone said this to me, I could have sponsored the DeepVeer wedding (all those receptions included!). This again is problematic because the slippery slope argument applies here. Today if I am sceptical about going out for a bite early in the morning, tomorrow I will have inhibitions while taking a job that requires me to work late. Then again, one may argue that the former is avoidable whereas the latter is significant (cost-benefit analysis, basically). But this too is problematic because what it means is that a woman’s ability to move freely is contingent upon the general perception of how important the end goal is (after all the right to free movement was never quite meant for pointless endeavours, right?)
Recently a friend of mine said ‘No matter how feminist we all are, we have to admit that safety is an important concern’. Though I still fail to see the connection between being a feminist and being concerned about my safety, I do not completely disagree – it is most certainly important to be safe. But there are other ways of being safe than restricting yourself to the confines of this ‘safe campus’ (lol @ that too) and waiting for a guy to escort you across the city (try arming yourself with a pocket knife, really helps – seriously).
The juxtaposition of the ride with and without male company makes one thing clear – it’s all in our head. We have blown these dangers and fears way out of proportion and while we complain about society trying to control women, we have allowed our fears to control every action we undertake. If we come to think of it, we would feel a lot safer in the presence of more women in these public places. Here arises a Catch-22 situation since no woman will go to place dominated by men for safety concerns and that in turn makes a lot of public places male-dominated. This is where the idea of ‘be the change’ comes in handy. We as women need to learn to deal with the dangers without shutting ourselves from the world. In other words, we need to normalise the act of exercising our rights without fear. The entire purpose of women screaming their lungs out for equal rights is defeated if we choose to lock ourselves up and wait for a male companion to provide us with a sense of security every time we wish to step up.
So in conclusion: Ladies, there is a thin line between fear and paranoia. While the fear of facing sexual harassment is more than legitimate it becomes indistinguishable from the latter if you allow it to restrict all that you do. If you want to be safe, be alert – sure, but for the love of god do not turn your rights into distant aspirations. And to people in general – if you tell me that I shouldn’t do certain things because ‘it’s better safe than sorry’ one more time, I swear I will put your head through a wall.