Lone rangers

Delhi has the dubious distinction of being an unsafe city for women, despite the fact that many single women have been fearlessly living alone

Last week the capital was in for another rude shock. Mala Lakhani, a 53-year-old fashion designer, and her assistant were murdered inside her plush Vasant Kunj Enclave home in Delhi over a dispute on unpaid dues. The three tailors — Rahul Anwar, his cousin Rahmat and a friend Wasim — all in their mid-twenties, surrendered to police and confessed to their crime.

This was another instance where the safety of women in the capital came under the scanner, highlighting that women at workplaces are vulnerable — even empowered and capable women like Lakhani are not safe inside their homes.

Patriot decided to meet single women of different age groups, who reside alone in the capital, to talk about their security concerns. A journalist in her mid-thirties was being stalked by a skinny lad in his late twenties who introduced himself to her as an aficionado. He broke into her house. Thankfully, she wasn’t alone. The matter was reported to the police and the case has been going on for the last four years.

The young journalist had to shift to a new place and employs strict privacy options so that her whereabouts are not known. She sleeps with a knife under her pillow. “I don’t feel like I’m out of it. He’s out there. I’m not stupid,” she says, with a straight face, “In this world, you can’t go invisible. I’m a journalist. But I’m not going to let fear dictate my life.”

A single woman, after a certain age, is not looked upon with respect. People, in general, judge them. They have trouble finding a rented accommodation. Ajay Barua, who owns a two-storey house in C R Park, as a matter of policy, doesn’t rent out his house to a single woman—spinster or divorcee. “I have nothing against women, but I had trouble with a girl tenant who had many visitors till late in the night.” But many male tenants would do the same, entertain guests till late. “But there’s a difference. You know what I mean,” he says, forcing a smile. Single women are the pet target for the choices they make.

Despite this, there are some who have made a conscious decision to be on their own and to deal with the world on their own terms. Kiran Bhushi, who is in her early fifties, is a professor in Indira Gandhi National Open University. She has been living alone in Delhi for over a decade. She is a generous host and people of all kinds visit her den.

She doesn’t feel threatened or insecure in the city, though she remembers a scary encounter when a stalker forced her to remain locked up in her own apartment for the entire night. The only time she regrets being alone, or when solitude is pinching, is when she’s on a desolate stretch, driving on her way back home in the wee hours after a party.
Elena Tommaseo is a designer from Milan, in her 40s, who lives in South Delhi, alone. “Honestly, I don’t feel endangered,” she asserts. She applied common sense to stay away from trouble. For many years, before coming to Delhi, she lived alone in Milan. She’d feel unsafe, if she had to park her car away from her house late in the night and had to walk the last few hundred yards. “It’s the same in Delhi,” she says.

She is of the view that Uber and Ola have made life easier for women who travel alone in the city. Earlier she’d only accept an invitation for a party if she had ensured that someone reliable would drop her home. The street light is a concern in Delhi, according to Elena, as there are parts of the city that are very dark. Such places are “unsafe for both men and women.” She has some simple rules, like she cleans her own house and doesn’t give her keys to anyone.

A writer, columnist and an environmentalist, in her mid-40s, who doesn’t want to be named for she’s “fiercely a private person”, lives alone in South Delhi in a big apartment. She’s happily married, perhaps because “we stay in different cities,” she jokes. This has been the case for many years. She likes to cuddle up in her bed, and writing or watching Netflix is her favourite pastime. “My home is a patriarchy-free zone, and therefore is the safest place for me,” she laughs, but she doesn’t seem to be joking. “This whole idea that you need a man around you to feel safe is abhorring,” she concludes.

Sunila (name changed) is the wife of a painter who died in the mid-1990s. She has children who support her, but she decided to live alone in Delhi. She prefers solitude to being forced to adjust with the lives of her children.

Nandita Rao,70, fends for herself in Delhi when she’s not visiting her sons, who are settled in Singapore and London, respectively. She is also an ace golfer and was the chairperson of the ladies committee of Indian Golf Union last year. Some in her age group have even booked a place for themselves in the old age home as they do not want to be a burden on their sons and daughters.

One of them, a 75-year-old lady who lives alone, visits the old age home she has registered into every weekend to hang out with people of her age group. But she still loves to stay in her three-bedroom flat in Hauz Khas. “I will continue to live independently till there’s life in my limbs,” she says.

These women are in-charge of their lives, and have little time to feel insecure. As someone said in a jocular vein, living alone makes it harder to find someone to blame.

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