After years of being stared and whistled at, touched inappropriately on the metro and even being sent Facebook messages from men threatening to throw acid on her face if she did not accept their friend requests, my friend Niharika decided she had had enough. Living in New Delhi, India, she is not alone in experiencing this. She recently attended a peaceful protest at India Gate with hundreds of other youngsters collectively condemning violence against women.
All of India is in uproar about the young woman, nicknamed "Damini" by the press, who was gang-raped on a moving bus and skewered by a rod. Last week, she succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital. At 23, she might have had a bright future to look forward to; a future where a young girl had a right to expect equality of the sexes, a future of hope in a country that has seen astonishing socio-economic growth over the past decade, a future where a woman could dream of shattering the much-discussed glass ceiling. The atrocities that occurred on that bus hurt not only Damini but shone a cold, bleak light on the naivety of youth; the hearts of millions of young girls worldwide bled for our forgotten innocence. It is, we realised, futile for young people to expect a world that will treat us fairly.
Damini's shocking story has provided fuel for an explosion of news pieces, blogs, Twitter and Facebook posts such as "Real men don't rape". The protesters had not gathered at India Gate because of an isolated incident. They were fighting a much bigger battle.
There are plenty of other rape victims who may have received less media attention but are trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. An overwhelming proportion, sadly, are cases where the perpetrators are family members and parents' friends. Teenagers are especially vulnerable due to their tendency to trust people around them; constant vigilance is a must.
Violence against women isn't restricted to far-off places, either. My classmate was chased and pushed as she walked home, escaping with a battered, bleeding knee. An acquaintance was grabbed by the arm going through a backstreet; thankfully, she managed to run away. Yet another girl we heard about in Dubai was extremely distressed when a taxi driver indecently exposed himself to her and lingered outside her house. The UAE's high safety standards and stringent laws are a blessing, but we cannot afford to let our guard down until there is a dramatic change in the way society perceives young women.
All too often, it is those susceptible to violence who are blamed, as if the culprit wearing tight clothing, or going out in the dark, justifies the atrocity, rather than us blaming the man who lacks self-control. It's high time we realised that there is no excuse for compromising the safety of women and girls. All we ask for as a New Year's gift is the right to lead our lives without fear of violence, inside and outside the house, and without losing our dignity, our health or our lives.
The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai