My parents said, “Don’t go to Delhi for your graduation. It is not safe. Go to Chandigarh, it’s one of the safest cities in India”. The 18-year-old me readily agreed.
As my parents dropped me at my hostel gate, I was in tears. The truth of finally being on my own had just hit me. As I started walking, still lost in these thoughts, four men leaning out of a big fancy car shouted at me, “Madam saaman hum kamre tak chhod dein?” (Madam, should we carry your luggage to your room?).
I didn’t know how to react.
A feeling of disgust crept over me. My blood was boiling, my skin, sweating. I didn’t abuse them to their faces, but deep down I wanted to. My angst was interrupted by the watchman’s gyan, “Shaam ko bahar rehne se yahi hota hai. Tabhi hostel mein jaldi chale jana chahiye”. (This is what happens when you stay out late. That’s why you should be back in your room before dark).
My phone told the time, with a smirk I imagined. It was only 6:30 PM. Should I have laughed it all away too?
The next day, my first on campus, felt like a big deal. Bonding with the roomies was an important ritual and we decided to explore the new city together. A checklist of must-visit-places was made and it passed through the Gedi Route. Being a Punjabi girl, I always thought Gedi meant a long, fun drive. But I was about to learn a whole new meaning.
As I stood right outside my college gate, trying to flag down a rickshaw, a car came and stopped right in front of me and my friends. Dark tinted windows, Yaar Chandigarh Waliye blasting, a bunch of ‘swagger’ boys rolled down the windows and started checking us out.
The guy in the front seat felt no hesitation in saying to me, “Number dede, chill marangay” (Give me your number, we will hang out together). The security guard came to our rescue and rushed us away. He tried to scribble details of the number plate but the boys were out of sight. Day one was a total bummer.
Soon after, we stood in the warden’s room, watching her narrate the whole incident for our parents over the phone, almost blaming us for something we hadn’t even done. My first day in the ‘safe’ city of Chandigarh, was spent being ‘safe’ in my hostel room.
As time passed by, we became well acquainted with Gedi culture. A few things that I always carried a mental note of, were all rather disturbing actually. The fact that Gedi is conveniently considered to be a part of Chandigarh’s culture, instead of being seen as the eve-teasing and harassment that it is. It is something for everyone to enjoy. Of course, it’s always a girl’s fault. The time of day has no bearing on the boys or Gedi and yes, the cops, nicknamed ‘Mame’, only help the boys.
Going to the market near the college campus felt like walking through a muck of lewd proposals. Leftover tissues from fast food bags, scribbled with phone numbers, lined the street for us girls to pick up. If that wasn’t enough, the boys even had a ‘setting’ with the mobile recharge shops, who happily supplied our contacts and details. I changed my number four times in three years.
There is no one age group of men who would come in big fancy cars or bikes with a VIP number plate, loud music and alcohol. On complaining to the police they would just say, “Madam utha toh nai raha hai, dekh toh koi bhi ho sakta hai. Kis kis ko rokengay, wo bechara na bhi kar raha ho tab bhi aap logon ko yahi lagta hai” (Madam the man is not kidnapping you, anyone can look at you, who all do we stop from doing that, maybe he is not doing it still you will feel that he is following you).
A friend shared an experience of her brush with the Gedi culture.
One day somebody threw out a used condom on my face from one of these ‘Gedi cars’. It’s the worst I have ever felt about myself. The saddest thing is that nobody can do anything about it because the police don’t think that it’s under the gambit of their services. People get away with this kind of stuff all the time. It’s very restricting for a woman and extremely unsafe. It’s ridiculous and shameful that grown-up men use this as a shield to essentially stalk women and make them uncomfortable.Ananya Sharma, Student
Gedi has all the elements a patriarchal society needs. The cops would only issue a challan at the end of the month or the end of the year to keep the numbers good and at times would only be satisfied with Bottal de paise (money for buying a bottle or two of alcohol).
It surprised me how the cost of a girl’s safety was just a challan, that too at the end of the year, or a bottle of alcohol.
In the end, I was left with the one thing that my parents said: “Chandigarh is a safe city”.
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