By Shikha Sreenivas
By now you must have heard about ‘I Will Go Out’, today’s nationwide gathering of women, reclaiming their right to public spaces, be it day or night. Big cities like Bangalore and New Delhi have been making the news for the kind of violence and harassment it sees against women on an almost every day basis.
As a young woman who has been living alone in Bangalore for the last four years, since I was 17, the act of claiming public spaces has always been important to me, even when I did not consciously think of it as “claiming” it. But after I heard about the mass molestation incident in Bangalore on New Year’s Eve, I felt hopeless for several days.
Systems of oppression and control work differently in various cultures, they reinvent themselves with the times to find new ways to control women, their bodies, and their movement. But these women are full of hope and energy to fight a mindset that seems undefeatable. The movement is a powerful reminder of sisterhood sans borders. These women reminded me what I had forgotten in my despair — that the streets of this country are ours too.
Here is what I heard from women all over the country.
Shamik Chanda, activist from Umeedd in Silchar, Assam
Silchar is a small town in Assam. But like all other places in India, women and girls in Silchar do face their worst fears on the road. On the surface, Silchar seems to be very calm. But what you see is not what you always get. People here don’t grumble when they see women wearing short clothes, but only if they are with their boyfriends or someone else. The same doesn’t apply to women on their own.
Just a week or two ago, a 16-year-old girl was picked up from her house, raped, murdered and her body dumped in a pond. A week back, a member of the organisation was groped on the road by two guys in broad daylight while she returned home from college. We have tried our best to spread the news as much as possible and we hope lots of men and women join these march.
Tania Deviah (31 years old, campaigner) from Saligao, Goa
In Goa there are cases of groping and being stalked. If you’re riding a bike, people will stare at you. It is safer than some other states in ways, but women still face street harassment. If you go out clubbing, and you wear what you want, people are always getting their hands on you, now more than ever — it’s an increased trend I am noticing.
But apart from the tourist centres, there’s a whole other section of women who we have not got the chance to represent in this march, but who we want to reach out to. We want to look at rural Goa, where you don’t see women out on the streets after a certain time. It’s important to shatter the myth that it’s safe for all women everywhere in Goa, and we want to look at different sections and classes of women.
You know, it is safer here than other cities — it’s one of the reasons I moved here. I feel freer, I can ride my bike at 3 am. And that’s one of the reasons we are doing this walk, to say we are here.
Shruti (23) and Kritisha (25) from Nagpur, Maharashtra
I think one of the major reasons we face harassment is because people don’t want to talk about harassment. In the old part of Nagpur you don’t see any woman on the streets past 8 pm. I haven’t really encountered women who are comfortable about talking about it. The simple fact is women have given up talking about harassment. From outside Nagpur looks like a blooming, developing town, but under the surface people still restrict and impose rules on women’s bodies and movement — it’s looked down upon if you break norms. There’s a culture of apathy, and we teach each other this culture of apathy. So women also learn that they are not supposed to talk about certain things. Even our walk isn’t a full fledged march, because people will think it’s useless, and it won’t go well with the culture here if we try and make a point.
Sunita, 34-year-old activist from Ranchi, Jharkhand
Big cities comes in the news, but in the smaller cities and towns there are such terrible incidents which get covered only by local media. Just last month a girl who was an IIT student was murdered as badly as the girl in Delhi. A lot of people say the city is safe for women, but it’s the same city where women are not allowed outside after 5 PM. We’re having five I Will Go Out walks around Ranchi to involve everybody, and increase the conversation around harassment.
Ranchi is a student hub, men and women both come to study here. The men have ego problems. And because the girls who come here to study are far away from home, the boys think since they have no guardians around, they can do anything with the girls. People will ask, you are a woman, so how can you wear these clothes, how can you roam around at night? And if something happens to you, it’s your fault.
Satwinder, of Students for Society, and a PhD Student from Chandigarh
You can’t go out late at night. I study at Punjab University, and there are so many cases of eve teasing and harassment, and the men think it’s okay. If it’s at a late night party, the woman is told she’s responsible.
There are rules at women’s hostels according to which you give a fine, if you are late. Or if you forget to enter your attendance. These same rules aren’t there for men, there’s no fine for them. The university space is where we are trying to claim equality, and then the administration discriminates so much. We had to struggle so much for women to be allowed to go to the library at any time.
We need to make this demand to allow women to go out — women who go to work face trouble and harassment, especially Dalit women. If you have to go out after 11 PM, you’ll know that if anything happens it’ll be blamed on you. Women are supposed to stay at home and cook, and once they’re employed a similar perspective remains under the surface. So we want to look at this at through both the urban and rural lens.
Anahita, activist at Queerabad in Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Although this specific protest evolved out of the mass molestation that occurred in Bangalore, it is movement to claim safe spaces for all marginal groups. Just like people who identify as female often find themselves vulnerable on the streets, so do Queer individuals, especially under the Sec 377 law. There are bodies that fall under the Queer spectrum that are not even recognised yet. Trans people especially find themselves in violent situations and have to deal with sexual violence on a more daily basis. There in no denying that there are spaces that are gendered, which means within the spaces themselves there are bodies that are excluded from the get go. People regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification have the right to safe spaces and hopefully the merging of QAbad and the vast array of groups from across the country that are joining the #IWillGoOut movement signifies a more intersectional approach to reclaiming our cities and creating safe spaces.
This march reflect mindsets within individual spaces that are tied to larger structures of patriarchy. Hopefully a movement of this scale is only the beginning of a dialogue that we need to begin having regarding the oppressive structures that govern us.
Himanshi from Jaipur, Rajasthan
Being in a public space as a woman itself is looked down, you should always be escorted by a man or a group of friends. Most women have a curfew time of 7 PM or 8 PM. I think there’s a lot of negative masculinity here. In the sense that people think about their ego, and believe women shouldn’t go out. Since it’s a traditional city, if you rebel against any norms, people believe you’ve gone out of hand. So we end up lying and manipulating our parents — what time we’re coming home, where we are. So when something happens to us, we can’t share it with the people close to us. The biggest problem here is being open to the people in your personal circles.
And then since a lot of women do not move out after 7 PM, and all these traditional norms create an image of the “good woman”, when someone breaks these ideas, it’s assumed to be an invitation for harassment. And they cannot escape any judgement, and judgement is the main cause for what women face here.
Kokila, 23-year-old artist-activist, from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
So Bhopal is divided into clusters of urban and semi urban areas, an old city and a new city. People have these concocted ideas that the semi urban and old city areas are unsafe, which isn’t true. We are doing this in the middle of a market with brands as I personally have faced the worst kind of stalking here
By 10 Bhopal dies out. I find just too many spaces dominated by men, and it’s almost unusual when you see a girl on her own out there — parks, roads, anywhere. When you have company or you don’t, it’s business as usual to be harassed.
People need to stop telling girls not to step out, because this won’t change by protecting and sheltering women. Here, I have rarely seen women organisations here taking up issues beyond “save the girl child”.