How long will it take for Pearl Gupta to fade from public memory?
In case the name already seems fuzzy, Pearl was an 18-year-old first year student of Aditi Mahavidyalaya who was crushed to death by a Blueline bus on 19 November. Pearl and a friend had just gotten off a bus, when not more than 20m away from their college, a scooterist came driving towards them on the wrong side of the road. Making lewd remarks, he succeeded in driving a wedge between the girls: the friend was pushed towards the footpath, while Pearl got shoved onto the middle of the road where an oncoming Blueline hit her head-on. According to news reports, Pearl’s body lay on the road for close to an hour before someone picked her up and took her to hospital where she was declared brought dead.
Killer wheels: Delhi’s Blueline buses have already claimed 108 lives in the current year.
Pearl’s tragic death brings out some of Delhi’s ugliest aspects. The first is the menace of Blueline buses—with Pearl’s death, the toll reached 105; at the time of writing this column, it was 108 with the death of a 14-year-old schoolboy by a speeding Blueline on 23 November.
The second is the complete apathy of Delhi’s public and police. That any human being should lie on the road bleeding to death despite the presence of police is criminal. “The police van was standing nearby and could have saved her,had they rescued her from under the bus in time,” wept Pearl’s distraught mother on Times Now TV.
An angry Amrita Bahri, president of the Delhi Student’s Union, asked on the same news channel: “What are the Delhi police doing? If they can’t pick up the body, can’t notice the number of the scooter, what are they here for?”
That doesn’t, however, answer the obvious question: if the police neglected to pick Pearl up, why didn’t somebody else? Even assuming she was already dead, why did it take an hour for her body to be moved to hospital?
But the third is a menace which over the years has become something that defines our Capital as much as boat rides at India Gate or purani Dilli ki chaat—‘eve teasing’. I cannot think of a more idiotic euphemism. It’s time we dropped the term with its cute, inoffensive overtones to call it what it really is: sexual assault. It could be groping, or staring, or touching, or stalking, or passing lewd remarks. It is not teasing. And women are not ‘eves’.
Additional commissioner of police Rajan Bhagat’s claim that Pearl’s death was not a case of eve-teasing but just another road accident—despite her friend’s eyewitness testimony to the contrary—is symptomatic of our collective tolerance, and blindness, to the ugly reality of sexual assault. And it’s precisely this tolerance that has allowed it to continue unabated for years.
Many, many years ago when I studied at the Jesus and Mary College, the road from the bus stop to the college gate would be lined by serial offenders, but despite our complaints, neither the police nor the college authorities were able to stop the daily assaults we were subjected to. Women have made huge strides in the workplace, in the area of civil law, in social attitudes, but the streets remain out of bounds.
It won’t take a miracle to change things—provided we want to. First, you need a sensitized police force with a zero tolerance policy. Second, you need collective public will—if the streets of Mumbai or Bangalore can be safer for women, why not Delhi? If Delhi’s apathetic public decided to become more proactive in assisting women in distress, wouldn’t things change? Third, women themselves need to just say no and retaliate whenever they can. Fourth, changes in attitude aren’t that hard to bring about. We talk about sex education for our children. Why can’t gender sensitization be a part of every school curriculum? Finally, public awareness projects such as Blank Noise (www.blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com), which is a group of male and female volunteers involved in street interventions need to be encouraged.
The Capital might boast of having the most millionaire households in the country, a world-class Metro and appear all geared up to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. We have a woman chief minister. We lay claim to being the country’s cultural capital. With Lodhi Gardens we have one of the world’s most spectacular public parks. We dream of being a world city.
And yet, unless women reclaim the streets, we’ll never be more than a Neanderthal pit stop.
Namita Bhandare writes every alternate Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org