Fear of Nights: Why the fear of strangers who are men and not women?

What is so scary about darkness?

Safety and night, these two words are seen to be oxymoronic in the context of women. And, it is not just something that you as a woman hear from others but also something you grow up feeling – ‘It is too late, I must not step out’.

What is it about darkness that makes us as women feel unsafe?

Attending a walk organized by Hidden Pockets, it got me thinking. In our discussions during the walk we tried to unpack these fears.  We addressed several questions- What makes us as women scared of night? What is so scary about darkness? Will having more women at night make a difference? What is our association with a city at night?  Is association of darkness with danger a myth or a well founded reason?

 

 

Night seems scary because it is dark. Then would we feel better if the roads and areas are well lit? I have cribbed so many times about the street lights being out and feeling much safer if it was working. Why is it that we are so obsessed with light? Why are we uncomfortable with darkness? Back in my village in U.P, everyone is very comfortable with darkness and life goes on, with our without electricity.

We started the walk by entering the Satpula Lake Complex opposite Saket district court. Our first stop was a structure which was once a reservoir in the Jahanpana City. There were few men around, listening to music and chatting. It was a beautiful place to just six, relax and read. Honestly, at that moment with other women, it felt completely safe. But would we ever go there alone after sunset? I did not seem so sure. Would we come to this place if there were other women around? But won’t they also be strangers, just like these men? But just because they are women, will I feel safe? A woman could hurt/assault me too if that’s my fear of men. But no, I fear the strange men. It is absurd but this is how most of us feel even when it defies all logic. As we proceeded with our walk and the discussion, the association of darkness with danger seemed more like a myth than something based on a well founded reason.

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We were more relaxed in terms of our body language while were in the Satpula lake complex walking through silent spaces- reservoir, the amphitheatre, the park. The moment we stepped out on the main road amidst traffic to head towards the Khirkee Masjid, our body language changed. We became more conscious of people around us and more attentive. Our body language did not seem to be in sync with our erstwhile logical association of darkness and safety. We were more comfortable walking through the dark silent spaces.

After stopping for a bit at the Khirkee Masjid, we entered the narrow lanes of Khirkee. It was dimly lit, there were many people around. But did we feel absolutely safe? I am not sure. But this wasn’t a dark place; there were people around (mostly men and some women). Still feeling unsafe? Too many people? Too less people? Darkness or light? This seemed like a bigger problem. Our fears clearly didn’t seem to be logical and the reason for the same crumbled when we decided to unpack them. This took us to the larger discussion around women not accessing public spaces and being missing from them because they feel unsafe especially during night because it is ‘dark’.

The walk ended leaving us with many questions. Is it just the public spaces that are unsafe? Is night seen as unsafe because it is dark? Can the association of darkness and night be logically sustained? The walk reminded us of so many of our own biases that we live with because of our social location. I don’t have answers to most of these questions. However, it needs our urgent attention and engagement because these fears and assumptions are entering the policy making discourse.

 

Article by : Neetika Vishwanath

Photo Credit: Jasmine Lovely George

Neetika is a feminist lawyer. She currently works as a Research Associate with the Centre on the Death Penalty, National Law University, Delhi.

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