Where's a safe city for our women?

Pulling that already-carefully draped dupatta close to yourself when you walk into a desolated lane in the city, taking shorter or more crowded routes on your way back home at night, keeping sharp, pointed objects handy just in case a male hand ‘accidentally’ brushes past you, carrying large books and files to cover your chest if you’re wearing a fitted t-shirt, being on a fake phone call to appear busy and in touch with someone, preferably a male, when someone follows you — if you’re a man reading this, you’d be clueless, even puzzled at such behaviour.

Students of SIES College enacting a street play, Chhedenge Toh Chhodenge Nahin, to raise awareness on the violence faced by women in public spaces Pic/Sameer Markande

But if you’re a woman, you know what we are talking about. In fact, you may, unfortunately, have more interesting tips to add to the list. The Fear That Stalks, published by Zubaan Books, is a collection of 10 essays that discuss rampant gender-based violence in pubilc spaces — in both rural and urban areas of the country. An essay by Shilpa Phadke points out how access to public spaces is determined by gender more than anything else, while others discuss how ‘honour’ in the Indian society is redeemed through violence against its women, masculinity and its role in gender-based violence in public spaces, the role of media in addressing such violence, and so on.

In the book, scholars and activists also suggest policy changes that may help women access public spaces a tad less inhibitedly. In her essay, Urvashi Butalia questions the idea of how, for a woman, ‘private’ is home and ‘public’ is the world outside it. But the distinction does not apply to a man, who continues to challenge it. Also, when it comes to accessing public spaces, why do we assume that every woman has a home in the first place — what about homeless women? Butalia goes on to debate how being from a specific caste further endangers a woman’s safety, which also applies to sexual minorities like transgenders. It is true, as the book rightly points out, that the economic transformation brought about by globalisation has improved women’s conditions, but only just.

The Fear That Stalks,
Edited by Sara Pilot and
Lora Prabhu,
Zubaan Books,
Rs 595  

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