Despite being born and raised in a small town, never did my parents, school, friends or family friends ever made me feel that I was a girl and hence not equal to a boy. We were all raised together simply as human beings. Its only when we shifted to Delhi that everything came crashing down on me and I realised that I was a woman first and hence I have to be extra careful of what I do, say and where I go. Life became restricted.
Over the years, I have travelled to almost all the states of India. Things have changed where connectivity and accessibility is concerned. What hasn’t changed however is each state’s attitude towards women. Here is my list of how safe each state is for women (in ascending order). The list is based purely on my experiences and observations while travelling.Delhi & Haryana – Well, it’s better not to be born as girls here. These two places are way below rock bottom when it comes to treatment of women. Here I had to be constantly on guard whether I was home or outside. Right from your landlord who comes to your house in your parent’s absence on the pretext of checking, to a cyclist coming from the opposite direction, to autowalas who wants to take the secluded route home, to random strangers on bikes who would follow you for 10kms, to the uncle living next door who looks you up and down, this place will make you feel like shrivelling up and die or hide behind layers and layers of cloth. Even guys who are your friends or colleagues will never offer to drop you home at night once they know that they don’t stand a chance with you (in you know what...). I firmly believe that here if you drape a pole with a sari, somebody will still try and molest the pole thinking it to be woman.
Kerala – Men on the street will look you up and down, slowly and deliberately making you conscious of every part of your body especially if you dress up differently than the women there i.e. in sari, salwar kurta and oiled hair in plait. The women looked mostly cowed down and even the woman in a business suit reading news on a local channel sounded and looked apologetic.UP & Bihar (and now Jharkhand also) – The story here is of power and ego rather than lust (unlike the above). The same power and ego which makes them feel that what they say and do is right and they are above law. Everybody else should know their importance including of course the women. An example – when I asked one driver not to honk so much, he said it’s his car and he will do what he feels like.
Punjab – I have never stayed here but passed it on my way north. People here are nice, warm and helpful but somehow the loudness and aggression never made me feel comfortable.West Bengal – Apart from North Bengal, I didn’t find the rest of Bengal particularly nice. Yes, the women here are more equal to men than most other states, but the men are opportunists (for the lack of a better word in English).
Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, AP (in that order) – I feel that here people are attitude wise more progressive and disciplined than the rest of India. But they live strictly by traditional and societal rules and perceptions. If you can stay within that, you will largely be okay. For example – there were women ticket collectors and conductors in buses and train way back in 2004, something which you can’t see anywhere else even now; but dressing up in tight tops then was not considered right. AP was a pleasant surprise for me and I felt at ease most of the time there.MP & Chhattisgarh – Apart from the naxal belt and the gun totting people of Gwalior, its quiet comfortable being here. People are very simple hearted and helpful.
Gujarat & Rajasthan – Being born in a family in Rajasthan is perhaps not good because it’s steeped with prejudices about women and their roles. But as an outsider, you will never be shunned or man handled. This was something I had perceived way back in 1989-90 (on a school trip) and continues to hold largely true even now.Assam – Yes, it is safe despite that horrendous episode with the teenager. I am quiet suspicious that most men involved were unemployed or semi-literate with heavy influence from the neighbouring states.
Maharashtra & Goa – One of the best states for a girl to travel alone. Here people will just let you be and you can be yourself without any fear.All the Himalayan States – From the conflict torn Kashmir to Sikkim (especially Sikkim), people are just awesome and wonderful. You can travel to remote corners without even looking once over your shoulder. I can trust them blindly. Safety however becomes an issue sometimes - not from its people but tourists from other states mainly Delhi.
Arunachal – For me this state has been the best experience so far. It’s here that I have felt like a human being rather than being genetically defined. I am as equal as anybody else. People (read tourists) who have been there say it’s not like India. I whole heartedly agree. As a tribal state, the attitude and thinking of the people are way ahead than the rest of India. I haven’t been to any other NE states but I have a sneaky feeling, all of them are just as good as Arunachal in that respect.(*Orissa – People say lots of things have changed now, but all I can remember of this state was its extreme and heart wrenching poverty)
My father had told us long time ago that only those families and countries prosper which respects its women. Considering that most states are way behind in this aspect, we as a country have a really long way to go.