Sunday, 17 December 2017

Meet to sleep: Women reclaiming public spaces

“We need to unlearn everything that we have learned till today being women. It’s important to support and respect one another, so when next time a woman asks for support, do help her and in case she backs out as in your case, don’t get angry it’s important to understand that it’s very difficult to break the conditioning and raise voice against your own people in terms of injustice”, shares one of the participant during the campaign “Meet to Sleep” organized in solidarity of 16 December, the day when Jyoti Singh, 22 years old physiotherapist was brutally raped in New Delhi 5 years ago.

I clearly remember when I first heard about the brutal rape, I was in the Newsroom (back then I had a different profession), I froze to death! With each passing day, details of brutality, inhumane things were coming out in mainstream media as well as social media. Every detail of the case was spreading like fire, which ignited and infuriated people’s mind, young and old, men and women were all gathering and protesting in different parts of the country including New Delhi. Lot of reactions were pouring from everywhere Politicians, to famous Bollywood celebrities to common men who had become furious warriors. I was there standing on the roads along with hundreds to people fighting for justice, it was for the first time I was out on the road shouting and carrying written slogans, all I could think was that nobody deserves this sufferings and the criminals must be punished!

She lost her life, and that changed everything- one side there was hue and cry for justice and on the another hand, fear started deepening its roots which involved scrutiny in terms of what girl is wearing, timings when a girl should go out and come back, places which are unsafe for girls, and literally thousands of apps came out to ensure safety! That situation has not changed till now, there have been better laws courtesy Justice Verma committee, public spaces are still considered out of bound for girls.

So this year, “Meet to sleep” campaign (by Blank Noise) was organized in order to take a step forward to reclaim public places, to fight the fear that women can’t be in public parks, roads, to show our presence and to claim our right to be defenseless because when India gained independence it was not only for Men but for women as well as for every gender and sexual identity.

It was literally last minute when we decided to host and participate in the event. Within few hours we coordinated with number of organizations and people in Dwarka to gather and participate in “Meet to sleep” campaign. I was hopeful that people would turn up because it was about each one of us plus I thought that from Sahas, we are 2 people and anyone else joining us is a happy bonus. 

All geared up with our mats, pillows and some snacks, we arrived at Park in Dwarka sec-3, to my surprise one woman after another kept coming and by the time we began we are 25 in number, there was huge diversity in terms of age, class, employment. The event began with brief introduction about the relevance of 16 December and purpose of the event. Then the participants were invited to share their name and do they think the scenario on women’s safety has changed in these five years?

“Nothing has actually changed; there is Bulandsher highway where goons puncture buses by putting nails on the road and they not only snatch their belongings but also molest and harass women and girls traveling through bus. This happens even in daylight it’s a nightmare to travel there”

“Forget about grown-ups we are more scared about our young girls, we are even scared of sending them to the parks where they are taught in the evenings what if something happens to them, and someone might kidnap them. It’s very scary” 

“Some of us work in people’s home, when we go in the morning we are scared that even between the roads anything can happen”

It was so evident that women’s safety is so linked to employment and education.

“I know it’s not safe but that doesn’t mean that we won’t send our daughters to study. Its crucial for them, but that fear dominates our consciousness till they are back home”

“Also here there is a grave problem of drugs, there are so many ways to get drugged, when I went to fight with a chemist he counted like 200 ways of having drugs, so these young boys take drugs they not only eve tease girls they molest and cat call older women”

“I don’t understand what is the relationship between clothes and rape. The place where I come from men wear lungis till knee and women are clad in sarees, at this argument all men would have got raped till now”

“Also I feel it’s not about women from low socioeconomic background, women from middle class and high class also suffer gender based violence be in their office, way to office and in their homes”
This discussion was crucial and brought number of aspects related to women’s safety, need for better law or awareness about existent law and why mobility of women is so restricted. We also discussed about norms of “good woman” and “bad woman” which laid the guidelines for successful implementation of patriarchy.

We then took a small lunch break followed by taking nap in the public park. Since I was doing photo and video documentation, i didn’t get to sleep, my mind was constantly telling me to keep looking for the participants who were sleeping so that nobody do anything wrong to them. The fear crawled and kept me engaged for a while. I could see that one of the participants who was sleeping under the tree was stared by men passing by! They couldn’t believe that a girl was sleeping just like that in a park. Finally even I got to sleep for half an hour, what a relief!

We then gathered to share our experience of taking nap in the public park
“I felt fine, I was not scared. It took me time to sleep however it was a great experience, the sun actually facilitated sleep”

“I could sleep for few minutes only, I could sense that people passing by were looking at me, the uncle on the bench was so surprised that he couldn’t take his eyes off. But yes I couldn’t sleep well”

“It was a great deal for me, first coming to park and then lying here. For me it’s the first step towards being fearless. I am glad that I came here. When I was lying down, I was adjusting my clothes from here and there so that nothing is visible.”

“I think it’s wonderful that I took this step, I came out here, sleep in a public park. I know there was fear, but I faced it and realized that it’s not real, it’s conditioning”

For me, I was happy and enthralled that so many women can come out in public park and create a discourse around violence, safety, challenging the violence and reclaiming the public space.

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