by Alice Kaushal. As told to Priyanka Sutaria.
It was a winter morning in New Delhi in the 1980s, the fog yet settled on the streets. I was 17 and in college, and was taking an auto rickshaw to my guardians’ home. It was an ordinary ride across town, meant to take a half hour, until the vehicle stopped at a traffic signal. In the few minutes it took for the signal to turn from red to green, I noticed a man in a Fiat who kept accelerating his car in its place. Trying to catch my attention, he was staring at me and making lewd gestures with his hands.
I was worried that he would follow the rickshaw to my guardians’ house, which was in a lonely lane off the road. My fears were realised when his car trailed behind the rickshaw after the signal turned green. Yet, I kept hoping it was a coincidence and that he simply happened to be taking the same road. As we turned into the lonely street and he continued to follow them, I mustered up the courage to tell the driver of the rickshaw, who until then had no idea this was happening. The moment I alerted him, the rickshaw driver stopped the vehicle and stepped out.
My first thought was that he too was in league with the man in the Fiat, and I was terrified. But what happened next stunned me... The rickshaw driver—a young, skinny Sikh man—whipped out his kirpan, and rushed towards the man in the car, brandishing the weapon and yelling the choicest words of abuse! I watched in wonder and amusement as the driver of the Fiat panicked, reversing his car is great hurry, even banging it against a wall, as he tried to get out of the small lane. He made a quick exit, and the Sardar man returned to the rickshaw. In chaste Punjabi, he told me, “Nobody hurts our girls; if they do, we kill them.”
All these years later, I can never forget the look of determination on the face of that rickshaw driver, willing to fight for a girl he did not know to protect her from an act of sexual violence.
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