The joy of walking alone
Two months ago I was living in Delhi, India. During my lunch break I decided to visit my doctor for ordering new lenses. The clinic is about 500 meters from the office on a busy road. I finished placing my order and walked out of the clinic.
Barely 20 steps ahead an 6 feet tall, well built Afghan man asked me something. I didn't understand his language, shook my head and kept walking. 20 more steps and I realised he was making a pass and following me. I turned around to go back to the clinic and called my colleagues to pick me up in a car. The man turned back to follow me and minutes later as I got in the car, he was still looking for me.
But this isn't a story only from Delhi - I have lived in Pune and Chennai. I have travelled extensively across the country for work and leisure. But one piece of advise has remained constant - don't go out alone after 9 pm, don't walk alone on the road, if you are driving at night make sure the doors are locked.
Three weeks ago I moved to Sweden for the Social Innovation in a Digital Context course. My first week in Sweden, I was returning from a party and missed the last bus. We knew this might be a possibility and everyone told me it was safe to walk back. I began walking back and was pleasantly surprised that it was actually safe to walk alone.
I reached a street that was not as well lit/ had a feeling of being more isolated than the other and my Indian instinct kicked in. The voice in my head said it wasn't safe and I heard footsteps behind me. I froze at first but then reminded myself it was safe. The man walking behind me was walking faster than I was and caught up, I just look at him and told him I was afraid to walk alone. He smiled and offered to walk with me till the main road which was better lit.
Honestly I don't have adequate words to describe the joy of walking alone and not bothering about what might happen. The incident in Delhi does not stop me from living my life but it is an irritant. And I am tired of pointing fingers at the man who harasses me, the police, the law or whatever else! I am an optimist and I know for every man who harasses someone, there are 10 others who don't want to. I want to find the other 10 and with their help clean up our areas to make sure everyone can walk alone on the road peacefully, whenever they want.
My initiative Safecity which is a crowdmap allows people to indicate areas that they have faced sexual harassment in. As part of popular demand we also added another category "poor or no street lighting" simply because the quality of lighting contributes to how safe one perceives the place to be. If one is able to access this information and become aware of what other people are saying about a place we can make informed choices. Eg whilst walking alone at night or even during the day in a strange city, we can equip ourselves with information to stay safe.
Hopefully the use of this technology would make data freely available and we would get into the habit of consciously checking the "safe ness" of an area so that we ensure we stay safe.