Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Public Spaces For All Women

In the aftermath of the alleged gang rape and murder of two Dalit girls in a village in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh a fact that stands out is that probably for the first time the rape and murder of Dalit women received such widespread media coverage and sparked at least a modicum of outrage
The cases that the  media choose to highlight are generally those of rapes of or violence against middle and upper class girls and women and this is hardly surprising.Those who run the media tend to operate on the premise that their readers are "people like us". It's hardly surprising, then, that we read or hear of almost nothing which doesn't concern us.    
Let's get some context here. 
The bodies of Indian women are policed closely throughout their lives; they are the receptacle of the honour   of the men of the family- in a society where lineage is traced through male descent, the male members alone matter.  The idea is that a woman or girl ( many are underage when they are married ) must remain a virgin till married to a man of the family's choice. Of course women's sexuality and family's honour are practically interchangeable. Placing 'honour' at the forefront gives credibility to the policing of women's sexuality both before marriage and afterwards.

This policing is done in many ways. In the case of middle and upper class women, the creation of the "other", the supposedly predatory man prowling the streets is one such popular device. This man is always of lower caste or class or socio-economic strata or Muslim.

Note that all such planning and policing is places upper and middle class Hindu women at its centre. It is they who must be kept  safe from the "other" the predatory men.

If we were to provide easy and safe access to all citizens, to all public spaces, it would require more inputs of urban planning, better and more street lighting, better policed roads, better and more footpaths, better public transport and so on. 

Instead, under the guise of liberalization and capitalism, with the influx of international brands and the opening up of shopping malls, we are in fact cordoning off certain areas and limiting access to them. Those who can afford it, live in gated communities, in multistoried complexes, with all concievable luxuries thrown in, while those who help build these very structures are kept out. The rest of the citizenry is denied access to the "safety" of these spaces by virtue of being less privileged in every way.

In such glass enclosed, artificially aerated, and firmly sanitized spaces upper and middle class women strut about, enjoying a false sense of freedom, all made possible due to access to a certain amount of economic affluence. Here, the cordoning off cannot be more stark, nestled as these glass and concrete structures are, most often right next to bustling slums / jhuggis where the less privileged are kept at arm's length. 

And so we keep women of a certain type and class safe from 'predators', the dreaded "other".This helps to keep up appearances, the false sense that the predator is out there and by cordoning off these spaces women are kept safe. This detracts from the fact that the real VAW ( violence against women) is faced by women mostly inside their own homes, at the hands of family members or those who are well known to them, more frequently than outside it, from random men on the street.

The fact has been highlighted that the girls who were brutally murdered were out of their homes at night because of lack of toilets. Yes, their homes should have had toilets. The men who raped and killed them had easy access, but the power politics which is played over women's bodies would not have disappeared,and they would have been targeted in some other way.

The lack of access to such facilities endangers women's lives everywhere, in cities as much as in rural settings. However, the more we restrict ourselves, cede space to the perpetrators, the easier we make it for them. 

All women, of every class or strata of society should have access to public spaces and the facilities that help ensure that. We must raise our voices to demand it. Being kept protected, safe in our cocoons is not what we desire. Let's not limit the forays of our daughters to this or that area of your village or city or town. Our aim should be  complete freedom. Nothing less will do. 

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