I remember scrolling through Instagram on a humid July day, sitting with folded legs on the front seat of my car, as I returned to Delhi. College was reopening, and I was preparing myself for my last first day, when I stumbled upon a post by Akhil Katyal. It was a poem about a Delhi evening. Mesmerised, I opened the comment section to tell the poet how much I loved his work. As I was typing, I saw a comment that formed a lump in my throat. It said, “Dilli raat ko sirf ladkon ne dekha hai (‘Only men have seen Delhi at night’)”.
Fast forward to a week later. I am sitting in my PG room. It’s around 7:30 in the evening. I see another Instagram post. (I guess my mother is right, I do spend a lot of time on my phone.) A friend had shared a post about a group of underground travellers. They were organising a night-out, or what they called ‘Raahe-Dilli’, where strangers came together to explore Delhi on foot.
I whispered under my breath, “I wish I could join them”. My roommate looked at me, and reminded me that we didn’t stay in a hostel anymore, didn’t have a curfew time and that we were free to do whatever we wanted.
But I was apprehensive.
Because here’s the thing about Delhi – it is infamously known as India’s rape capital. According to data by the National Crime Record Bureau, 28% of all crimes against women in 2019, happened in Delhi. It also recorded 1,231 rape cases, 2,311 molestation cases and 3,398 cases of kidnapping and abduction. This is what happens to women in Delhi. We are reduced to mere statistics.
Add to that the number of cases that go unreported, the daily harassment while travelling in the metro, the stares and ogles of auto-drivers and rickshaw-pullers, and you would understand why I was scared. The lack of functioning street lights at night is another distressing factor for Delhi women.
And so, in the next hour, we argued, weighed the pros and cons and called up the friend to ask about how safe it would be. Ultimately, we took a leap of faith and decided to go.
Also read: Delhi Roads at Night
We reached Hanuman Mandir at Connaught Place, which was the meeting point, with pepper sprays tightly clutched in our hands, our locations sent to two friends each (we obviously couldn’t tell our parents about it), and a Swiss knife in my pocket.
Over the night, we sang songs at CP, went to the haunted (and practically unknown) Begumpur Masjid, walked from there to Mehrauli, and caught the sunrise at Qutub Minar.
That was the first of my many nights out in Delhi. For a girl who had always been told to be back home before it gets dark, this was wild. The night went surprisingly well, and is etched as one of my fondest memories in the city.
Women everywhere have been trying to reclaim public spaces that patriarchy has denied them for centuries.
In December 2019, on the seventh death anniversary of the Delhi gang-rape victim, around 8,000 women in Kerala walked in the streets past midnight. This event, organised by Kerala government’s women and child welfare department, highlighted the need for safer public places. In 2014, the ‘Why Loiter’ campaign was started, where women took night walks and slept in parks. An initiative called “Women Walk at Midnight” was also started in 2018, where walks were organised every month in different cities.
However, despite being in groups, many of these women still found men leering at them.
I have often tried to contemplate why I felt safe that night with that group of 40 strangers, who I had known only for a couple of hours. Was I safe because of the strength of the group? Or was it because out of those 40-odd people, 25-30 were men?
I remember, when we were nearing Mehrauli, there was a group of boys standing outside a pub. They were drunk and singing songs. I remember tightly holding onto my pepper spray and walking a bit fast. I engaged in a conversation with one of the organisers, just so I wasn’t as seen as someone walking alone, a potential prey.
It’s been a year and a half since that night-out. After that, I’ve explored Delhi a couple of more times past midnight. I’ve felt the excitement and adrenaline rush each time. However, the fear and the threat of something untoward happening has remained a constant too. I guess unless society unlearns patriarchy, it’ll only be men who fall in love with the beauty that Delhi is at night.
Garima Sadhwani is a student journalist at the Asian College of Journalism, with a keen interest in politics and storytelling.
Featured image credit: Tahir Hashmi/Flickr