Back in 2009, I’d walked into Noida, a city that falls under the belt of National Capital Region or NCR, as we call it, with a pocket full of dreams and aspirations. I’d hoped that moving in to Noida from Kaniha, a small village in the outskirts of Talcher, Odisha would be my pathway to a better, happier life given the relatively higher number of opportunities in and around New Delhi.
I had a beautiful childhood growing up in Kaniha, away from the evils of the world. While I did believe back then that I was missing out on opportunities, looking back I have absolutely no regrets. My four years in Noida never made me feel unsafe, even if I was unsafe. The only time I walked out of the four walls of my house was to go to school or for my coaching center. Life was simple, and good. Since IIIT happened to me way back in 2013, I was filled with the excitement of walking out of home into a hostel, it felt nice to have this new found freedom. And oh, boy! I was like a little kid left in a candy store. I have explored every nook and corner of the city in the past four years. This was also the time I was exploring my new found freedom with my choice of clothes. I wanted to wear everything fancy and out of the box I could put my hands on. From Atta market in Noida to the Sarojinis and Lajpats of the world! This exciting change was fucking heaven to me. I was exploring my sexuality too, there were new things I was getting to know about the community, new things about myself, my interests, my career options, and in this entire circle of life I was completely unaware of how vulnerable I was.
In the past 4 years since I moved to Delhi, I have been groped, harassed, stalked, been cruised, touched inappropriately in public spaces, received explicit, creepy calls and this isn’t what I signed up for! I have opted for alternate roads to the metro station, stopped wearing my 3-inch high boots, stopped wearing shorts, a vest/sando I’d wear to the gym or just because it was too hot, simply because I didn’t want to put myself in uncanny and risky situations. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I have started avoiding wearing bright colors, or think twice before buying a bright colored bag just because I might become too visible in the crowd. I was walking through Pallika in my second year of college wearing a beaded neck-piece under my denim jacket, a random man walks up to me, slides my jacket off and starts looking at my neck-piece as if I was a mannequin. I’m sorry, what?! This is not even the tip of the ice-berg. And this is the case with me, a cis-gender man, I can only imagine how bad it must be for women! I remember the time my sister had to change her coaching center because some creep had recorded her number from the attendance sheet and as she repeatedly kept getting calls from the same guy, despite of having made several complaints at the center and having blocked the several numbers he called from, it simply never stopped! Nobody likes being vulnerable, and this is exactly how I’m feeling living in Delhi the past two years in particular. I haven’t really lived as long in any other city as I have in Delhi, and I’m only hoping they’re better off than this city.
The other day I was speaking to a friend here in Delhi, and she raised the same concern. The one fear with which we both walk out of our houses everyday is the fear of being raped. Worst of all, there’s no law that protects a male rape survivor, there seems to be no end to the number of rape cases being lodged every day in India, and to top it all there’s the societal stigma. Never thought I’d walk into an India like this one. If I ever choose to be a parent tomorrow, if I ever choose to live in Delhi tomorrow, I hope this isn’t the Delhi I’d be letting my kid walk into. Sometimes I wish I could go back to loving Delhi like the way I once used to, like the way my naive-self used to. Today, I unfortunately can’t. I’m often scared when an autowala or an Uber driver is nice to me. I suddenly become cautious, and the first question that runs through my mind, “Why is he so nice to me?” Sometimes the same fear shows when I’m speaking to a stranger, even if the person has good intentions, I’ve stopped responding. Because, I don’t want to be vulnerable anymore. I miss my old-self, I miss not being so scared. Don’t know if India was always like this, but if it wasn’t, can we please go back to the way it used to be?