I don’t recall a time in my growing up years in Delhi when my sister and I were issued safety warnings, to constantly look behind our shoulders and watch out for the stranger lurking in dark alleys. We were taught to have implicit trust in people and their integrity. Did we live in safer times or were we just too naïve?
Today, I worry for my young daughters whenever they are out alone or with friends. I insist they go out with a group of known people and return home within a stipulated time because as elders say, the times are ‘bad’. Women face violence everywhere. Our daily papers are filled with reports of sexual harassment in public places and workplaces, molestation at schools or colleges and even rape. The forms of violence perpetrated against women are not just innumerable, but heinous. Children are increasingly becoming victims of violence.
Violence is a major deterrent to women achieving their full potential. Isn’t it ironic that a country and society that worships the goddess in her various forms does not value its girls and discriminates against them. The violence that a woman faces during her lifetime is interconnected at many levels starting with sex selective elimination before her birth to gender based discrimination during childhood and adolescence followed by sexual harassment. A young girl is left voiceless when sexually harassed as she lacks the confidence to either stand up to her perpetrator or speak out. This harassment has far reaching ramifications as girls across the country are forced to drop out, are married early and have children at an age when they should be playing. This girl remains uneducated, is unable to understand her own rights and therefore often becomes a victim of domestic violence and exploitation. When she herself has to have a child, she prefers not having a girl because she knows how difficult it will be for her in the future.
Girls need to stay in school without the fear of being sexually harassed on their way to school, of having to drop out and marrying early. Girls need to stay in school without being forced into domestic service, to be seen for what they are as future leaders of their families and community. I wish we see a day soon when every girl is free to live, free to learn and free from harm. When girls and boys both reach their potential without the fear of violence, we will all be better educated, healthier, more prosperous and more equal.