Sabrina Iqbal Sircar talks of Guwahati being safe haven for women in spite of the molestation incident that shook the country
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in Guwahati. Spending my entire childhood and adolescence in this city has been an experience which I will always cherish. Caught up in between a developed city and an on-edge Metropolity, the city has its own charms and sordid edges.
It is true that the burgeoning of multinational companies and food joints do not really transform it into a metro overnight. We have certain loopholes to be covered to yet emerge as a full-fledged metro. But the Guwahati of the yesteryears is definitely in for a massive makeover. In fact, if you had visited the city a decade back and returned today, you would find it difficult to identify and comprehend the titanic changes that took place over these years. In all, it is home to me and many others like me. We adore this little settlement by the mighty Brahmaputra no matter what its flaws are.
It is not just because it is home that Guwahati makes me feel good. This city has certain inherent qualities that make it stand apart. Like I said, I grew up in this place. As a child and as a teenager, I have always felt that the city always treated me well. Especially when I speak from the standpoint of a girl or woman, I feel the city has always respected my dignity and made me feel protected. Of course, there were some not so pleasant incidents by the ‘unscrupulous elements’, but that I think is not because of the place but because of the typical kind of mindsets which make their nasty presence in every corner of the world.
Women here in this part of the country have always been very outgoing, liberal and smart and these attributes I believe have been developed in them because of the situational context in which they socialize and grow up. We have girls and women working full-time jobs here and discrimination on the job or educational front is almost invisible. In fact now we have women come up even in those professions which were earlier considered exclusively of the male dominion.
We have women working in gas service stations, women drivers and other such professions which are definitively a welcome change. The Guwahati of today has been a very pro-women city.
Since the city is not a complete metro yet hence, its nightlife dimension is not yet developed. There are a few bars and pubs which cater to the needs of the nocturnal elite and some joints which remain open for the young who are trying to develop an inkling for a chic nightlife because they think it’s cool. The movement of the womenfolk of the city is not restricted during the night. They have nightshifts at their work places. Even at odd and ungodly hours, women are used to shunting between places, safe from conventional and anticipated fears. But in the recent past, one incident did jostle my beliefs about my `oh so safe city’. The iniquitous incident on G.S. Road in which a young girl was molested on a buzzing roadside by a mob of men shook the very existence of Guwahati. I still cannot comprehend and believe that such a devilish and decadent activity took place in my city!
A few days back we had Aamir Khan on Satyameva Jayate attributing praises to the northeast of India for it gender egalitarianism. Here we were, with a young girl stripped on the streets by a group of grown men who were smirking and manhandling her. The girl shouted and screamed for help but only two civilians passing by came to her aid but they again were defeated by the barbaric mob that was literally pouncing upon her.
This incident shook the whole country and was condemned by national leaders. It was hard to understand that how and why in this part of the country such an incident had taken place. The news channels hyped the event beyond limits and even conducted discussions as to why such an instance happened. To my surprise, some people on a talk show on a local news channel blamed the girl for the incident. It seems the girl was dressed provocatively and so it was a well deserved act!
For those who have not seen the footage of this act, the girl was in a knee length skirt and top. Correct me if I am wrong, but that is perfectly decent attire. Moreover it is like saying that it was a raw piece of meat so we pounced on it, this would have been perfectly fine if the subjects here we are talking about would have been dogs but we here are talking about human beings!
I was forced to rethink my perceptions about women safety in Guwahati after this incident. It was not acceptable. It was far from being predictable. I realised two things. First, that what had happened was certainly a new level of immorality which had manifested in the city. Secondly, that it was this and may be a couple of more such instances that endangered the dignity of the women in this part of the country. But when we take a general view, it is evident that day to day crime rate against women in the city does not make mercury soar.
I am definitely not trying to say that what happened is not a grave issue, it most certainly is but the authorities are acting upto it. A search for the miscreants was launched. Many have been traced and brought back. Proceedings are taking place against them. Yes, the incident has portrayed the city in negative light. But every city has its own share of such instances.
When we talk of the city in general, I would still stick to my previous claims that it is safe for women. Women comprise about half the population of Guwahati and we have a sex ratio of 916 per 1000 males which is considerably good. We have been people who respect the female as an individual, as a person. Crimes against women are on the rise as a whole all around the globe. Guwahati share the repercussions. The city does not have a misogynistic mindset and is complimentary to the women. We in Guwahati are caught up between a patriarchal north and matrilineal neighbours and thus, we display the perfect balance between the patriarchal and the matrilineal.
We are a people who patronize both the sexes for a poised society. As far as the safety of women is concerned, it is much safer than other cities in the rest of the country. We have a plethora of women professionals and students who survive alone in this city, earning their bread and living their own independent lives, fearlessly because they know that the city is on their side.