Reclaiming the public space for women

A group of citizens gathered around a bonfire in Munirka at 9.30 pm, symbolically located behind the bus stop from where Nirbhaya boarded that ill-fated bus on December 16, 2012

Puja Bhattacharjee and Sanskrita Bharadwaj | December 16, 2014

A mid-December Delhi night brings up images of cold and eerily empty roads, for anybody. And for a woman out in the street, it is nothing but constant threat of rape or death.

However, a group of citizens chose to challenge this fear. They gathered around a bonfire in Munirka at 9.30 pm, symbolically located behind the bus stop from where Nirbhaya boarded that ill-fated bus on December 16, 2012.

The group had come to a place, deemed unsafe for women, and reclaim it.

Shreya Ila Anasuya, who is passionately associated with gender rights and the organiser of the event, says “my motivation for organising the event is to assert every citizen's fundamental right to occupy any space - whether public or private - without feeling fear.”

The face book page of the event, ‘Reclaim The Night, December 2014’, read:  “It will be two years since Nirbhaya was lost to sexual violence. Since then, we've seen a rise in the political rhetoric around sexual violence, but it has remained confined to a few piecemeal reforms. More importantly, it has remained confined to the paradigm of viewing women in terms of their relationships with men. It has remained confined to the idea of the gender binary, thus ignoring differences in gender identity experienced by millions. It has remained confined to the idea of the heterosexual family unit, within the frame of nationalism, and aggressive capitalism.

From a moving bus to a tall tree to a field to a cab, we are still fighting for our freedom, and we are still facing massive roadblocks. Across the country, so many of us are fighting every single day, whether on the streets or in our own bedrooms. So many of us are facing oppression from the person we love, from the very movements that are crying for human rights.”

 “Gender-based violence is all pervasive, and seeps into every single space. Reclaiming the night is direct action against this,” said Shreya.

Many at the Munirka event had a tale to tell. One of them spoke about the horrific experience of cyber bullying. “A man had made derogatory comments about the Uber rape survivor. According to him, ‘the woman was asking for it,’ When I challenged his view, he turned on me and threatened me with dire consequences.”

For her it was an emotionally disturbing experience. She blocked the person on her Twitter account. But she has never felt safe and constantly worried about being stalked.

This is not an isolated case but countless women face similar experiences online where the abuser is usually anonymous. To deal with such disturbing episodes the participants of the event vowed to identify the laws which deal with online sexual harassment.

“Right now we do not even know what our rights are. But with awareness we will be better placed to deal with abusers,” Shreya claimed.

The group then spoke of safety on public transport. Two years after December 16 incident, taking public transport still remains extremely risky for women, especially at night. The participants sought metro and bus services round the clock. They resolved that the citizens should keep pressure on the transport department to make it more accountable and take care of safety issues.

A participant recounted how even a woman constable was abused when she asked men occupying woman’s compartment in metro to move to the general compartment.

The group encountered a police patrol team led by Somnath Paruthi, SHO, Vasant Vihar police station. “A constable has been stationed in every bus stop under my jurisdiction. It is not that we are not working. But when heaps of criticism are piled upon us, we get demoralised,” he said.

As midnight approached the group dispersed with a hope of a new day.

 “I really cherish the small pockets of freedom and safety created by these spaces, and look forward to together building a more inclusive and larger community that is able to freely exchange ideas and take action on tackling gender-based violence,” said Shreya.

For us, to be out on the street, without having to bother about safety is a liberating experience.



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