Subscription Subscription
Home > News > India News > Article > Bombay girl interrupted

Bombay girl, interrupted

Updated on: 26 February,2011 06:18 AM IST  | 
Aviva Dharmaraj |

In Why Loiter? Authors Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade argue that the question of women's safety is inextricably linked and defined by her access to city streets

Bombay girl, interrupted

In Why Loiter? Authors Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade argue that the question of women's safety is inextricably linked and defined by her access to city streets

'Studies across the world demonstrate that access to public transport is
a significant factor in enhancing women's access to public space.
presence ofu00a0 a system of usable 'public transport' is what substantially
distinguises Mumbai from other cities, particularly for women.'u00a0
- excerpted
from Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets. PIC/SAMEER MARKANDE

Is the city of dreamsu00a0 really a hostile place for the young, Hindu, middle-class woman, and could the act of 'loitering' hold the key to her 'empowerment'? That's the question sociologist Shilpa Phadke, journalist Sameera Khan and architect Shilpa Ranade examine in their book: Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets.

"Even in a city like Bombay, the so-called 'friendly' city, women have to strategise how to access public space. What will they wear; how long will they stay out till; who are they going out with; will they need to carry a shawl or a jacket if travelling by train, these are all methods of strategising," explains Sameera Khan.

The book mentions how women's behaviour in public is driven by purpose: Commuting to work, shopping for groceries or ferrying children to school, all deemed 'acceptable' reasons for women to negotiate public spaces.
"I've been asked why women would want to loiter, when even 'good' men don't. The assumption is that if one has something better to do, one wouldn't be out in the streets. [But] For the city to be more inclusive, people need to occupy its open spaces," says Shilpa Phadke.

She adds, "Loitering makes the case for turning a public space into a place for having fun, something women have not been 'allowed' to do."

Not seen, not heard?
Khan believes that one of the reasons women are given conditional access is the notion of 'virtue'.
"A woman has to establish 'respectability', [since] only if you're a 'good' girl are you worthy of 'protection'," she says. And 'good' girls don't loiter.
If they could, why do they still carry pepper sprays, safety pins and knuckle dusters in their bags, ask the authors.
"Women are having to constantly censure themselves, and are always in preparation of an 'attack'. Men don't carry that burden," says Khan.

North India, 1997
The book draws on the findings of a three-year-long research project based on an idea that was sparked in 1997, during a trip to north India that Phadke went on with a female friend.
Quickly slotted as 'different' and by extension 'odd', based on the assumption that 'women don't travel by themselves', she says it was this perceived difference that interestingly helped ensure their safety. "We were safe because people didn't know how to engage with us."
The extensive planning that went into the trip, including the advance booking of hotels and train tickets to ensure their 'safety' made Phadke realise the extent to which they had internalised the need to plan ahead.
After discussions with other women post her trip, she realised that she was not alone, and that there was a desperate need to engage in discourse on the subject.
"Every day, [as a woman] you end up policing your body," says co-author Shilpa Ranade, adding, "There is a sense of being watched, which can be very debilitating in the long run.

Excerpts from Why Loiter?
Peeing (page 81)

If public toilets were to be your guide to imagining the city, what would they say about Mumbai? First, they would imply that there are very few women in public as compared to men: for if the average ratio of toilet seats for women and men in most public toilet blocks is anything to go by, there is just one woman for every five men out there. Second, they would suggest that if Mumbai women do need to pee, they do so at home or in their school/ college/ office toilets rather than use a public facility. And third, they would say, since even fewer facilities are open after 9 pm, respectable women have no business being out in public after dark.

Who's Having Fun? (page 107)
Mumbai is a city where it may seem possible, if not always comfortable or easy, for women to be out late and alone, and even use public transport to go home from work or a night of partying. It is partly because the city does allow access and partly because women are very creative at accessing public space without appearing to transgress any boundaries, so much so that one can often forget how fragile this access actually is. We are reminded of this whenever there are attacks on women in public space. These incidents, ironically, never lead to a demand to enhance women's access to public space, but rather to calls upon women to be more careful and not take unnecessary risks.

Do Muslim Girls Have less Fun? (page 119)
If we imagine Bandra girls as having the most fun in the city, the Muslim girls of Mohammed Ali Road might appear to have the least fun. The image of the poor little Muslim woman trapped in her burkha with 'fundamentalists' and 'criminals' as neighbours in her crowded mohalla dominates popular perception. Their lives are assumed to be joyless, devoid of any pleasure or playful indulgence.

But if we ask the girls of Dongri, Nagpada, Cheetah Camp, Behrampada, and even Mumbra, they might not agree. Says one, a sixteen-year-old Dawoodi Bohra girl from Bhendi Bazaar, who wears the Bohri veil every day, 'We can go everywhere in the ridha, I don't feel any different from other girls.' Her friend concurs, 'We go out for movies, shopping to restaurant, to the gym, park, do whatever other girls are doing.' Adds another who lives near Pydhonie, 'We even bunk class, eat bhelpuri outside college, or sit on marine Drive.' Sometimes, their dress might make them stand apart, but otherwise, their lives cannot be distinguished from those of other teenage girls in the city.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Books India from Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, Shilpa Ranade; Rs 299

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK