Upon pulling up to our building several nights ago and seeing an armed guard posted in front of our gates, I realized it was finally time to dedicate a post to “the guards” and security in New Delhi as an expat. I do not know the numbers of how many individuals are employed as “guards” in India, but it has got to be very large. Our building alone has guards employed round the clock — and its not just the two guards we employed once we moved into the building first. Now we have guards round the clock times four — one for each floor. I just chuckle when I pull in and see all of these guards. Now, Just as our children have wondered, you may be wondering why would we have guards for each floor. Most buildings in Delhi do not, but we happen to have a floor where embassy from Singapore live, another with embassy from Germany and another from the United Arab Emirates. With embassy employees, each embassy has their own protocol on guards outside their employees place of residence. Thus the reason for an armed guard outside the gate of our building at night (I am not sure which embassy member he is protecting).
The job itself has got to be so boring. So, for our guards, they must be happy to have a few more people to talk with through the day and night — and let me just say that they talk about everything and KNOW everything there is to know in the neighborhood. They know exactly who is home, what the schedule is, which person is nice, they get all the gossip and news. As I have driven around, sometimes I notice a makeshift table in front of a building and the guards in the area will pull up a chair and play a card game. Duties of a guard include opening the car door for me at home, open and close the gates to our entrance to the building for the car, collect any letters and packages (who needs a post box) and accompany any visitors to our door. The guard is also responsible for keeping an eye on the generator and notifying us when more gas for the generator is needed. There are definite unwritten guidelines that come with each job and no one is to cross those boundaries. For example, if the generator needs more gas, the driver is fine going and buying it, but he won’t put it in the generator — that should be the guards responsibility. Another example is if the guard isn’t right at the gate to open it, the driver will just sit there and honk and honk instead of getting out himself to open it. One of our neighbor’s guards was a little slow today and the driver let him have it. The humorous thing yesterday was when our neighbor from upstairs (the United Arab Emirates man) came bringing us gifts he stood at our door with his guard and our guard in the backgrounds making sure we were all alright. Now, on Saturday as we had made our rounds in the building dropping off gift baskets and welcoming our new neighbors to the building, we started from within the building so no guard felt the need to accompany us to the doors. It’s a bit humorous.
The building guards are not the only guards looking after this neighborhood. The development we live in is Anand Niketan which consists of several parks, a large club house building and MANY four story buildings where people live in apartments. Although there are guards sitting in front of every building, the Anand Niketan development is also gated (about 5 or 6 different gates) with a guard at each of those gates. At 11:00 p.m. each night all but one of the gates is locked. The guard at that gate at night asks for an address for you to enter. Trust me, there is no one checking a name, approval, etc. you just give an address and they let you in so it seems a bit silly. There had been so many car thefts in the neighborhood that they have tried to control it by posting the guards and locking the gates at night. (The picture below is one of the gate entrances to Anand Niketan with the guard posted there.)
Guards are also heavily employed at hotels, malls, every store in town and movie theatres. Every time you enter a hotel or mall here, you have to go through security screening. As a woman here you have to step behind a curtain to get the wand waved over you or the pat down, always done by another female. Even if you have gone through the security to get in the mall, the movie theatre within the mall has an additional screening process. Guards at each of the local shops stands at the door to open it for each person that enters and exits. Most stores also require you to check any bag with the guard and you get it back once you leave the store.
Upon calling back to California to arrange some things for our visit home, the woman on the other end of the line explained to me, when she found out I was calling from India, that she had declined an invitation to go to India with a friend because she worried about her safety. She wanted to know if I felt safe here. Well, with all these guards, I would hope I feel safe, at least at home. The reality is that the most likely thing to happen is theft and getting in a car accident. We do have to use caution. Much can be done to deter a lot of the other worries. For example, dressing extremely modest is a must here. Last week I attended a meeting sponsored by the middle school on keeping your teen safe in Delhi. The US Embassy employee that presented said it is crazy to see these expat youths walking the malls in spaghetti strap tops and shorts. It is opening a door to trouble is how he put it. My maid has had her pocket slashed several times while riding the bus home to have her money stolen. The buses are so crowded that one does not know that it has happened until it is too late. We have been careful not to be out very late at night and we have avoided going to some places because of experiences other expats have had. Like most things, our life has had to be altered some living here but in answer to the woman’s question on the phone, we do all we can so that we can feel safe here, and we have plenty of guards at the building to add to the protection needed here. Now if I could only learn Hindi so I could really be up on the neighborhood gossip!