Whom does the safe neighbourhood belong to? It belongs to people residing there and also the society and country, at large. It belongs to trees, birds, insects; and in India, it belongs to cars also! If the safe neighbourhood is a common resource, which it is; and an essential resource at that, I suppose a safe neighbourhood belongs to girls too.
(Neighbourhood is the area outside the gated community. It is the area outside the boundary walls of the apartment. It is a place with free access and not a restricted entry. With the shrinking of open spaces in India, the neighbourhood gets limited to by-lanes).
When there are so many burning issues around that require immediate attention, I know the safe neighbourhood for girls is an issue that easily goes on to a back-burner. Also, the refrain would be that the neighbourhood is already safe. Good people reside here, and anyway, there’s no issue as such. What’s the fuss?
Well, I also thought the same till the time B +ve and O +ve started cycling around – independently. What would be your reaction when you see six and half-year-old girls pedalling on the by-lanes in the neighbourhood? What would be your thoughts? You might say – What’s there to think? The girls are cycling. So, what’s there to react and speak?
I will share with you the exact reactions that our twin daughters get on their cycling expeditions. “What are you doing alone? Why are you alone? It is not safe for girls to be alone like this. Girls should not venture out alone. Why are your parents letting you out alone?” The girls get stopped on the neighbourhood by-lanes and are bombarded with these queries/statements.
The keywords are – Girls and Alone.
Why Can’t The Girls Be Alone?
I have been told by people who raised the questions about the girls cycling alone is that they are doing this out of noble intention. I don’t get the noble behind their intention. If they are scared about the well-being of the girls, they can ensure that no untoward happens to the girls – till the time they can see the girls (nobody would expect them to tail the girls).
They say that strangers can be bad for girls. Well, the people stopping my girls are strangers too and if they are claiming to be good, why would they allow any bad happening to a girl, or for that matter anyone, in their physical presence? They say that it is not their duty to ensure the safe passage of the girls. Well, if that is not their duty, what is their right to stop the girls from venturing out alone?
Everybody knows that India is no country to raise daughters. So, how shall we go about making India safer for girls? By locking them up at home (though, there is no guarantee of their safety at homes either) or by making the country secure – starting with safe neighbourhoods.
It seems that, for girls in India, the right to safety and the right to independence are mutually exclusive. If they have to be safe, they cannot be independent and if they have to be independent, they cannot be safe. It is nobody’s case that safety and independence have to be integral rights for every citizen and girls are citizens, too.
You might say that I am exaggerating/imagining. In that case, what are the premises under which my daughters, invariably, get stopped on their cycling independently? And yes, why only girls? Why not boys?
The Self-Confidence Of Girls
The continuous forewarnings hurt the self-confidence of my daughters. For that matter, they hurt the self-confidence of every girl who has to endure this. The “noble” counsel raises the fear/worry in their young minds that when they cannot even roam freely in a neighbourhood, what else can they do alone in this big world?
It becomes a difficult situation for a parent. You would want your daughters to sail the world, and then you realize that the neighbourhood, the very own neighbourhood where you stay, is beyond their reach?? The messaging that goes to the young minds is surely not motivational or inspiring.
When the girls, who have faced non-stop queries about their independent moving around since childhood, go on become young women, surely they do not feel emancipated all of a sudden. Rather, it would be more like they are used to be at the receiving end which they have accepted/forced to accept and they do more of the same to young girls in the neighbourhood.
Needless to say, it becomes a vicious circle wherein girls get ensnared right from their childhood in the name of being safe.
Safe Neighbourhood Is A Right Of Every Girl
Girls have a right to feel safe and be safe where they live. A lot is spoken/discussed about the rights of young women. This is, of course, par for the course – absolutely needed. What is also needed is that the girls get wings too, not far away but, in their very own neighbourhood.
The least a society and a country can do is to allow the girls to have the freedom to play and explore by the making of a safe neighbourhood. Girls have a right to enjoy their childhood and be treated as equal citizens of the country. The first step is letting them be, rather than locking them up.
PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert, just growing up together with my children. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.