Monday, 28 December 2015

Online dating- notes on virtual loitering- Mansi Jhingran

Some of you might think - What is an article on online dating doing on the Why Loiter blog?
Well, it may not have to do with physical loitering but it still deals with a woman’s experience of putting herself ‘out there’ (‘there’, in this case, being the virtual world)
The woman in this case is me and this is my account of my brief online dating experience in India.
A year ago I created my online dating profile on a popular international dating site. And one year later I’m still happily single and a lot wiser. Not to mention that I happily rid myself of the constant need to read every new message and reply to it lest I be considered rude.  Excessive use of my computer and smartphone for weeks resulted in losing out on other (more) important aspects of my ‘real’ life. This is what the virtual world can do to us. If we’re not careful we can get sucked down into a rabbit hole.
The world of the internet is a Wonderland and we all are Alices from time to time.
Coming out on the other side of that rabbit hole, I wonder – in this age when everyone and everything is online, is sexual harassment following suit?
If that’s the case then I’m very scared to hear the words from the commercial airing on TV these days – “see you online ba, see you online ba.”
But let’s forget Alice and her Wonderland and be real here. Sexual harassment on the internet isn’t a new thing obviously, but the difference here is that this harassment is happening behind the facade of ‘online dating’! Men hiding behind a well-constructed online ‘dating’ profile on a legitimate dating website and/or app, can manage to sexually harass a woman simply by typing a few words or sentences and they can EASILY GET AWAY WITH IT, as opposed to a sexual harassment that occurs in the real world! Those words in all Caps sum up my need to write this article. If I’m harassed in real life I can take appropriate action. But what can I do in the virtual world except block the questionable profile and report it? But it’s not that difficult for the same man to make another profile for himself on the same app.
This is a very big reason that attracts the creeps, harassers and perverts of the world to the world of Online dating just like kids are attracted to a toy shop or a candy store.
As if it wasn’t enough for a woman to deal with their words and actions in her day to day life, now a well-meaning and honest woman looking for a nice guy to date has to filter out a whole lot of nonsense. In the real world these sexual abusers can be found roaming freely, and in the virtual world, well, quite a lot more freely.
But like I said, in the real world the woman can fight back or legally punish her harasser. But the virtual world is another story altogether.
Here the male harassers take a dual approach - they can keep their real identities hidden, which emboldens them greatly. And along with their identities, their true intentions can remain hidden for as long as they want it to be.
For example, if these don’t seem like fake profiles to you then what else do they seem like?
(Pics 1,2 & 3 here)

As for the intentions, it is a no brainer to figure out the intentions of these profiles:
Notforlove1986 (no picture), ‘guyinmumbai123’ (who spends a lot of time thinking about “being in bed and sleeping”) and ‘juicymanforwomen’.
While shyguysids is so shy that he neither has a picture nor a single word about himself in his profile. Which begs the question – what the hell is he doing on a dating app in the first place, then?
And that’s why so many sexual predators can be found on dating apps such as OKCupid and Tinder in India (along with the extremely shy guys of course). I don’t know about other countries as my online dating experience has so far been limited to familiar (or not so familiar) territories.
A year ago when I started dating online, I had no idea what to expect. It was tricky for me to know what to write about myself and how much information to give out. What pictures to put up? Should I approach men or wait for them to approach me? But the last dilemma took care of itself. (As soon as a woman creates an online dating profile, there is a tsunami of messages that hit her inbox)
And then gradually I came to the realization that I am falling victim to the male harrasers in a two-fold manner.
At this point, it warrants my mention that not all messages are from perverts. Some are definitely well-meaning and respectful guys looking for a genuine date. I met some of them and made friends with a few. But others are otherwise ‘good’ and ‘decent’ guys who are dating online to satisfy their ‘bad-side’. Yes, these are the men that we work with, are friends with and even proudly related to. But because they come from conservative/ traditional and religious families where the mere mention of sex or a girlfriend is taboo, they are drawn to these online dating platforms for what can only be described as an adult-chat.
“Big hug to keep you warm through the night. One from behind. Save that for whenever you roll into bed.”
“…was a freezing night here in Kuwait. Getting out of bed was a task! With you in, hugging, it would’ve been a day off.”
“Are you freezing? I have warm palms.”
“What is your fragrance? I mean your natural scent. I have been told I smell woody-ish.”
These are the ‘gentlemen’ or the ‘nice guys’ who are only looking for sex and are fairly upfront about it. They are a shade better from the crude harassers. According to me their brand of harassment is more polished and refined, masked by sweet even romantic words and a rosy picture they paint of the future with the woman, (which is mostly a false one) with the single aim – to get inside her pants. They may even share all the information about themselves readily. (I will further elaborate on this man in the second part of ‘Online Dating ya Harassment – Notes on Virtual Loitering’)
One such man I met on OKC even told me the exact details of his family members down to his 2 cats, along with the exact location of his house, thereby encouraging me to share as well. It was a trap. How do I know that? Because no one tells a complete stranger (that is me) they ‘meet’ ONLY online exactly where they live!
And some women do end up giving these men a chance because he was sweet, gentle, kind, funny /witty and we had a real connection. I’m sorry, but he only wanted to connect to your body.
In the dating world jargon these guys are known to be the ones leading with sex, which means that they get sexual in the conversation pretty soon and unabashedly. A woman has only two choices - to either accept these men or to reject them. Any other approach can be disastrous.
 Dating apps across the board have plenty of such men apparently. According to a US based dating coach – “men go out looking for sex and find love. Women go out looking for love and find sex.”
But there is a difference between seeking sex and treating women as mere sexual objects. And coming back to the two-fold approach of the male harasser on online dating sites and apps…
First, is that, these apps and sites are free to register and they don’t have a process whereby they can verify the so-called authenticity of all the basic details that a person chooses to provide - like their profession, marital status, education level or citizenship status or even their real name. In fact, OKCupid will even encourage you to “brag about yourself”.  A lot of people choose to use a random name in place of their real one as their ‘username’.
Truly Madly or TM on the other hand asks you to provide a photo ID, phone number and references to up your ‘trust score’ and so far I haven’t been harassed on this app at all since most users I interact with have a high trust score, which means that they shared their true identities with the app so any complaint of harassment can get them in trouble.
But all that the other apps seem to care about is whether you are a human or not. Their main concern is not to allow a robot to use their app for dating. A sexual offender is welcome as long as he carefully constructs a sound profile for himself.
When I created my profile on OKC first, I realised that I could easily be an exaggerated version of myself (within reasonable parameters of course (or not)). I could be 5’10” tall, I could be a multi-millionaire and/or working for NASA. All that I need to do for the third is to put the picture of an astronaut in place of my own picture (Identity theft anyone?) My point is that if I could be anyone I wanted to be, then so can a man.
Men know that women look for certain qualities as signs of credibility of a man’s online dating profile - a series of well-lit and clear pictures taken in different locations over the years (include some females in the picture and the trust factor goes up), a graduate from a known university or college and a working man is generally considered to be a safe bet.
But all the above three things can easily be constructed; everyone or their friend has a high-quality phone camera with superior editing features. And getting some women to take a selfie with isn’t difficult at all in today’s selfie-obsessed world. It’s considered the most normal thing among colleagues and friends and casual acquaintances in a bar. And if even if all his details are authentic, it doesn’t guarantee that the man will not pose a threat to a woman’s safety and/or her sanity, which brings me to the second way that makes online dating a breeding ground for harassers. Once a man has got your attention and you have started a conversation with him he can say just about anything to you, and there’s not much that you can do about it. Some are just random messages from random guys, like:
“You look sexy/ so hot/ sooo cute, I want to kiss those lips of yours!”
“You have naughty eyes. Care for a dirty chat?”
“Do you spit or swallow?”
“I give very good massages. Do you want one?”
And many other unspeakable profanities that even include details and pictures of their genitalia. Like this unwarranted picture received by me.

In return they ask you to send your picture. And by picture they mean that they want to see you naked - a woman they have never met in person and hardly know.
What will a woman do to a strange man who walks up to her in flesh and blood and asks her in the middle of the street – “Would you like me to fuck you?”
She’ll probably slap him.
What can a woman do if a man hiding behind a dating profile verbally or sexually abuses her?
Not much.
So you see, no matter what a woman does, for her to fall a victim to sexual harassment  (whether it’s major or minor, online or offline it doesn’t matter) isn’t related to where she is at or at what time of the night or what was she drinking or how many boyfriends she has.
I was being sexually harassed even when I was sitting inside the four walls of my house and dressed appropriately (I promise I am. You want me to send you a picture?).
So kindly stop telling women that they get molested, groped and harassed because they step out of the house alone, wear revealing outfits and drink with boys.
Because neither did I have to leave home nor did I have to show my cleavage to invite sexual harassment.
And, even if she is out in the public domain (whether it is real or virtual) it is her right (as much as it is anybody else’s) and when she is there, she wants to feel safe at all cost.
PS – Who was the number one creep I met in person from an online dating app? Read part 2 of ‘Online Dating ya Harassment – Notes on Virtual Loitering’ to find out. Coming up…

Sunday, 27 December 2015

'Never seen a woman alone here' - Bhargavi Chandrasekharan

As I sit down and think about loitering, I can’t but wonder why I actually need to explain my need to wander around. Even as the concept of settlement and community living emerged as we organized ourselves into civilizations, the need to loiter and savour a moment as an individual is perhaps the most basic of human instincts.  When I was at the school, I used to take my cycle to attend music class, promptly circling the nearby park thrice for no apparent reason. And then, on odd days, I used to stop by at a less-crowded, smelly, old temple, circumambulating the corridors at my own pace, smiling, observing, thinking. Then it became long drawn bus journeys to random places, mostly from terminus to terminus. (autos, share autos and cabs creep me out) Later, my trusted two-wheeler took the spot and the absolute freedom that I, as a woman, felt is incredible. I can go anywhere, anytime I WANTED TO. So, when bicycles are portrayed as symbols of women empowerment by P.Sainath, I tend to accept wholeheartedly. Blame it on centuries of depending upon others; the sheer drama of seeking permission at every point from the family; the very real possibility of tackling violence, the process of a woman being out on her own is essay-worthy in itself. 
But then, I thought I had crossed that stage, after all I am practising advocate at Madras High Court. I have practically spent my college days at the Law College on the shores of Marina Beach, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I generally prefer walking, because when a woman sits, she is asking to be stared at, self-exhibitionism, right? A few days after the first phase of Chennai floods, I had a rather boring day at the Court. It wasn’t in my plan to visit the beach. On my way to office I had turned to the Beach lane, rather impulsively. I picked my usual spot, that between Kannagi statue and Vivekanandar Illam. (‘V’ House) To those of you who have visited Marina, it is a usual sight, the Cotton Candy men, the Sundal vendors (usually kids in their school uniforms), the bajji-selling akkas, the student gangs – from the University of Madras, Presidency College, Stella Mary’s College, the couples in love –arguing with each other, chasing each other playfully, maintaining a respectful distance, entwined to their very DNA, the fisher folk drying their nets, saree-wearing aunties power-walking in their Adidas shoes, parents negotiating with the kids on their wave-quotas, the daredevil swimmers – well, you should visit sometime. I sat by an empty boat and soaked my feet in the slightly moistened, soft sand. At my sole’s reach was the powerful yet calm sea, rising and crashing against the backdrop of the twilight sky. 
I felt the gaze of a person behind me and decided to ignore. A few minutes later, that person, a tall, bearded man in his early 20s sat beside me. My fight and flight hormones surged up promptly. I occupied the boat, ready to pounce upon (verbally to start with) the stranger if he stood up to sit beside me. He didn’t. I didn’t want to move an inch from the place as the thought felt like a failure. Why retreat in a battle, right? As I sat confused and alert, he apologized to me. Yes, he sat next to me because he saw a group of men staring at me. He said he thought if he sat next to me, people would think I was with him and won’t trouble me. I was seething with so much anger that words failed me. A little later he took the boat behind me, this is when the said group of men he so feared cleared the place after a selfie session. All the while I felt this stranger observing me from the back, like a specimen, as an odd woman out, quite literally. Unmindful of his unsolicited voluntary protective disapproval, I stared at the sea, smiled, engaged with the kids passing by and played with the sand. As I was leaving, he smiled at me and asked why I was at the beach alone. Did I not have friends? A good looking girl like me would have a boyfriend or two for sure? I asked him why he was at the beach. He said he was a postgraduate student of Political Science at the Madras University and was distressing at the beach after a particularly difficult examination. Apparently he would stay at the beach till 7.00 p.m., and I can stay at the beach till then. I asked why he was at the beach alone. He gave a sheepish grin. I told him it was none of his business to barge into my personal space, notwithstanding the polite apology and patronizing smile. I tried talking to him about the concept of feminism, he nodded as if he understood and promptly went on about the duty of the man to respect and protect women. He repeated a line that I hear very often from people, “I have never seen a woman sitting alone in the beach.” Honestly, I haven’t too, I replied, “now you do.”  I wasn’t going to lecture upon why I prefer solitude or why the beach, it was too personal to be discussed. I thought of telling him about my profession and the kind of people I meet on a daily basis, the rapist and the rape survivor story usually has the desired effect. I decided against bragging, who knows, he may not change even if he met a female Army Chief . He may find her an aberration and explain how a potential perpetrator may not know that the survivor is indeed a trained soldier.  I walked back, having tried and lost. As I peered through my helmet, I saw my savior fly away in his bike. The time was 6.05 p.m. Just saying. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Loitering in the last local train- Neha Singh

Bombay is the city of dreams, they say. I think so too. Not because of Bollywood or celebrities or the fact that it is the financial capital of India. No. I think Bombay is the city of dreams because in no other city in India can a girl even dream of boarding public transport at one in the night without the constant fear of assault. 

So, what maybe a dream in other cities for women comes true in Bombay. A woman can get out of work at 11 p.m, hop into an autoriskhaw or a cab, or take a bus or the local train and get home without even a flicker of fear. The same thing is almost unheard of in other metros like Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata or Bangalore. 

When I first visited Bombay when I was 18 years old, my flight was going to land at 2 in the night. I had informed my friend, a girl, that I would be reaching at 2 and she should come and pick me up. (I do not ask anyone to come and pick me up from the airport, train station, bus stop anymore because I just dont feel I need the 'protection'). I had assumed that she would bring her father/brother along. Having grown up mostly in the north of India, that was a given. But when I met her at the airport, to my horror I realised she had come ALONE, in an autorikshaw. 
Why didnt you bring your brother (who is, btw, 5 years younger than us)? How the hell are we going to go home? I asked, and I can never forget what she said to me.
She looked into my eyes and with utmost confidence she said, 'Relax, its Bombay'.

We got out of the airport, got into an autorikshaw, and got back home to Kandivali, which is almost 12 kilometres away. Not for a moment did I feel unsafe. We didnt have to clutch onto our bags and look straight ahead, we didnt have to have our mobile phones ready to dial emergency numbers, we didnt have to haggle with the autorikshaw guy, we didnt have to chant mantras, envoking Gods to protect us in this 'situation'. We laughed and chatted and looked at the roads and got home without a glitch. And for the first time in my life I felt that things should be this easy, this simple. I felt I had wasted so much of my time on absolutely stupid things like who, what, where, how, when, why. Just because I happen to be a girl. In Bombay, like my friend had put it accurately, for the first time, I relaxed. 

There are several theories and opinions on why Bombay is safer for women. 

Some say its because 'Bombay aake sab sudhar jaate hain', or 'no one has the time here to poke nose into anyone else's business', 'the place is always so crowded, there is never a lonely stretch for crimes to take place', 'idhar aake bhaiyya log bhi violence bhool jaate hain'. I personally think that one of the major reasons Bombay is comparatively safer for women than other cities in India is because of the large female working population and the effective public transport, mainly the local train, which is rightly called, the lifeline of Bombay. 

Having sung all these praises for Bombay, let me remind you that all of this is only in COMPARISON to other Indian cities. Bombay is still far from being ideal for women. For starters, there still is the need for a cop in every ladies compartment in the local train, the metro stops plying after 11 p.m, there have been cases of cabbies and autorikshaw guys harrassing women passangers, just the fact that we still need to segregate men and women in public transport means there is a long way to go till this city becomes EQUAL for everyone. 

Until that happens, we shall continue to loiter in as many public spaces as possible in the city. 

This December 16th, to start off the whyloiter online offline campaign, some of us took a local train ride from Borivali to Churchgate and back. We reached churchgate station at 11 p.m, loitered around Marine Drive for a couple of hours and then took the last local train that leaves from Churchgate to Borivali at one a.m. The cops that were in the ladies compartment to protect us were happily napping, so we just chatted, laughed, clicked lots of photos and made merry. 

When we got on the train at Andheri station and were busy chatting loudly and clicking photos, a couple of elderly women sitting next to us asked us if we were new to the city. I dont know why she asked us that. Was it because we were looking extremely chirpy and happy (not a feeling/behaviour generally associated with being on the local), or because one of us was wearing tiny shorts (not considered appropriate clothing for local trains), or because we were clicking so many photos (not a behaviour usually seen in local trains). Anyhow, we started a conversation with them and told them that were were loitering on the 16th of Dec in memory of Jyoti, who was brutally gang raped and left to die when she boarded a bus one night after watching a movie in the suburbs of New Delhi, three years ago, this day. We explained to them that loitering and access to public transport and public space is every person's fundamental right and victim blaming cannot be tolerated anymore. The women agreed with us completely and supported the why loiter campaign. 

At Marine Drive there were cops on duty and several people out to enjoy the evening breeze. We walked on the clean, well maintained pavement in the slightly chilly Bombay weather and sang songs loudly. No one stopped us, no one harrassed us. There were stares and curious glances, but that didnt prevent us from enjoying ourselves completely. 

When we boarded the last local train back home at 1 a.m, there were only us in the entire compartment, and of course, two policemen that were happily napping. We all got off at different stations, each then taking autos or walking home. But in Bombay, thats normal, or at least normal for some of us. There are women who would not do that in Bombay too, thus extending the period of normalizing women's movement and accessibility to public spaces and public transport. 

When one of my colleagues saw our pictures, she said, "you are very brave! I can NEVER do this."
I told her that I think she is brave, to never experience the joy of freedom and access to public spaces, to give that up for the 'safer' indoors, that for me, is brave. What I do is NORMAL. 

With the right to loiter comes the right to take risks. And we all must exercise it to make every city a relaxed, happy, stressfree place for women. 

Friday, 18 December 2015

An afternoon in Lodi Gardens #whyloiter campaign - Vani Viswanathan

My jaw dropped when I entered Lodi Garden on a Friday afternoon, looking for peace, quiet and me-time. It was swarming with people. What did so many people have time for in the middle of an afternoon, on a weekday, I wondered. I’d just quit my job, and had spent the last week oscillating between feelings of exhilarating freedom and unproductivity. I’d planned for this Lodi Garden trip to be my little escapade, a chance to stretch in the winter sun. And, at the back of my mind, was a niggling thought to test out whether that space was open to a woman by herself – not jogging, but doing nothing.

A long line of students walked past me near the entrance, all girls, in green salwar kameez for uniforms, some with a mustard brown sweater on. Continuously jabbering, walking in small groups of three or four, I noticed with amusement that each group went stiff and quiet when they walked past an open gym, where a bunch of young men were exercising. The men, flattered at the attention, returned the favour.

Lodi Garden seemed to be the flavour of the day for schools. Little boys in navy blue school uniforms run amok, screaming, weaving through the broken monuments in the garden. Girls and boys didn’t speak with each other – the presence of a teacher probably had something to do with that – but I felt sad that mixed-gender discussions had to be kept clandestine, outside of school boundaries.

The cacophonic school groups had taken up most of the initial parts of the huge garden. My dreams of lazing about near a centuries-old monument had to be forfeited. I walked ahead… As the garden began to quieten down, the grass began to be dotted with couples in varied stages of engrossed discussions. Some cuddled, some had the partner lying on the other’s lap, and in another, a woman kneeled on the ground with her hands on her partner’s lap, as if she were trying to hard explain something and seek his understanding. One woman fed mouthfuls of food to her partner (I assumed), until a third person came about to join them.

I settled for a spot in a corner of a grassy slope that offered a vantage view. I saw so many pairs of men and women walking around; girls I groups; men in suits lying on the grass, soaking up the sun; garam pakode and chai for sale; two people with cameras slung across their shoulder; another photographer duo who were carrying flowers, and I wondered if one of those cheesy pre-wedding shoots was going on (I sighed about being judgmental); several foreigners, a bunch of international students – kids from across the world – who were running about screaming; a man with a dog (that looked like it had starred in an ad for Pedigree) that he cuddled and played with; a group of men who’d dozed off with scarves for pillows. A pair of eagles chased each other, swooping by very close to the ground near me, making me draw back in shock and fear. A stray dog jogged up close, trying to be friendly. A group of women in bright, rainbow-coloured kurtas and sweaters walked about, clearly enjoying an extended lunch what looked like working women on an extended lunch break to celebrate the end of the week.

I got myself a cup of tea from the passing chaiwallah. It was sweet beyond words, but the heat felt soothing. So far, nobody had as much given me a second glance for being a lone woman dawdling about on the grass. I was surprised; jogging in the park near my home, only a few kilometres away, would have earned me a few stares. How was the Lodi Garden miraculously free of this gaze? Maybe it’s the presence of women in general, be it with other women or men. Or maybe it was because there were enough women feeling free enough to pose: the bride-to-be (I was right about the pre-wedding shoot!), girls taking selfies and women posing away for their male and female friends to click. It felt liberating. If only all of Delhi could be this way!

But all the while, I had one thought I wasn’t giving enough attention to. So far, I’d not ventured to lie down on the grass like my fellow lone male Lodi Garden loafers. Did I dare? I looked at my watch. I’d spent close to two hours simply looking around and occasionally writing in my notebook. The group of men who’d dozed off with scarves for pillows got up to leave. Taking that as a cue, I walked up to a mound of grass, lay down and pulled out my Kindle. Why not?

Vani Viswanathan is a feminist and co-founder/editor of the online literary magazine spark. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Dissecting the Indian 'Goddesses'...and 'Gods' by Mansi Jhingran

The festival of Navratri just went by and this year too I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony that accompanies the idol of the Goddess.

I watched the joyous celebrations, fervent worshipping, shopping and the crowds thronging at the Durga Puja pandals to seek the blessing s of ‘Ma’, and to celebrate the life-giving, pulsating, creative and divine feminine form thereby acknowledging that life and creativity would not be possible without her. But if they were worshipping the Goddess idol or the great divine feminine then why were they harming, abusing, molesting and raping the real-life female?

Three days into this festival and news came that a toddler and a five-year old girl had been raped in Delhi. But we choose to ignore the obvious misogyny around us while we immerse ourselves in nine nights and nine days of celebration, maybe because we don’t know how to deal with it.

Almost 37,000 rape cases were recorded in India in 2014. And that is the statistic for just ONE of the SEVERAL CRIMES perpetrated against women and young girls in India on a daily basis that HAS BEEN RECORDED. So who can deny the misogyny here?

And we’re talking about this treatment of women in the same country where the divine feminine is worshipped over nine days and nine nights in her nine different glorious avatars. How ironical!
Maybe this is where the problem lies - that our culture idolizes women.

Yes, maybe the problem is that we idolize and worship women in India. And then when a woman strays far from our idolized version we simply want to “teach her a lesson” or “put her in her place.”
I’m not making this as a blanket statement for all those who worship Durga and/or other Goddesses, but questioning the cultural and social norms that shape our beliefs and behaviors.

Worshipping girls is deeply rooted in our culture. We derive our cultural and traditional values from this worshipping of pre-pubescent girls or ‘kumaris’ (meaning a virgin). During Navratri it takes place on the last 2 days and is called Kanya Puja. Because before a girl gets her first period, she is a symbol of purity and is expected to take on the role of Parvati as a wife and mother, Lakshmi as a housewife, Saraswati as the first guru of her children, Durga as the destroyer of all obstacles for her family, Annapurna as the food provider through her cooking, Kali as the punisher to bring the members of the family on the right track, and so on.

Add to the list the modern-day expectations from her to complete her education and earn for herself if not for her family. What high expectations from someone, at such a young age, who is probably not even aware of these roles and responsibilities!

The second damaging aspect of our culture is that we tend to give ‘respect’ to a woman almost always in relation to the man/men in her life; as someone’s wife, mother, sister or daughter. The individual is hardly ever considered an entity.

Therefore, every time I hear a man say - “I respect women” I feel like asking him – “how do you respect her? As someone else’s property or as an individual?” I have heard this enough to know that my individual identity is hardly seen as something to be ‘respected’.

I too was worshipped. When I was a pre-pubescent girl I would be in great demand at this time of the year. Women from the neighborhood would request my mother to send me to their homes to be fed. (Only some would invite little boys as well) When we would go to their house they would wash our feet, give us delicious ‘halwa-puri’ and money! I was treated like a Goddess once a year by the same aunties who would scream at me and my friends for running and making a noise outside their homes the rest of the year. But come the last 2 days of Navratri and their sour acrimonious attitude towards us would turn sweeter than the desserts that they served us.

This annual Goddess-like treatment stopped once I turned about 9 or 10 years old. And I was ok with that. I didn’t want to be treated like a Goddess anymore. It wasn’t like they were worshiping my younger brother as a ‘God’ after all (and this is where the gender inequality among children probably first starts in most households.)

It is a great thing to take a moment to acknowledge and worship the feminine in a hyper-masculine world where everything has to be big, loud and physically strong; where vulnerability and sensitivity are considered to be weaknesses; corporate ladders, go-getter attitudes and capital hungry sharks rule our world. But the very fashion in which we celebrate Durga Puja or Navratris is big and loud, almost too ‘masculine’. Does the Goddess approve of this show? Or does she prefer something more ‘feminine’, subtle and low-key because femininity by its very definition is supposed to be gentle, subtle and not-loud. “Ladies should be seen, not heard” – we would be told in school. Similarly when a boy does not fit into the strong and masculine mold that the society expects him to, he is teased and even bullied for being “like a girl”.

But if we worship the feminine in India then why do we have the lowest female to male population ratios due to infanticide and sex-selective abortion?  While the devotees lavish money at the feet of the Goddess, a girl in India still needs to give the groom dowry to marry her.

The very concept of idolizing women is anti-feminist to its core. The moment you idolise someone you take away from them, the right to be a perfectly imperfect human being and put on them pressure to be perfect.  (It works the other way also when a man is idolized as ‘Maryada Purush Shri Ram’).
The chauvinistic society began perpetrating this fraud against women the moment they put women on a pedestal. Women may think that they enjoy a position of great privilege and honour, but in reality it’s just easy for men to keep a watchful eye on them.  Remember the idol in the temple? Someone is always guarding it day and night.

So isn’t this a brilliantly devised strategy for subjugation of women by the male authors of our Hindu tradition (and almost every other tradition in the world). Terms and conditions are in fine print when the respect agreement is signed upon. If a woman crosses the Lakshman Rekha she’s punished.
So if a girl asserts her mind or rebels against a patriarchal system she definitely pays the price for doing so. If she goes out alone at night, drinks alcohol, is open about her sexuality or has a boyfriend, wants to marry outside her caste then she does not deserve respect, because this is no Goddess behavior after all.

I know that it’s just symbolic this worshipping of little girls, just like the idol of Durga is symbolic for female power and divinity, but it’s long –standing psychological impact seem to have outweighed logic.

By embodying the Indian woman as Lakshmi, Parvati, Sita or Saraswati the man expects from her all the divine qualities of the goddesses that he so fervently worships.  What pressure on a woman to be the perfect mother, wife, daughter and sister! Festivals like Karvachauth and Rakshabandhan ensure that there’s no escaping this cultural trap. When a new bride is compared to Goddess Lakshmi she’s expected to bring home wealth with her; if she doesn’t then she can be burned alive.

The modern woman simply cannot meet these highly dated expectations of the Indian man. Is this what’s leading to rampant misogyny? Quite possible.

When he’s a little boy the Indian male sees his sisters literally being worshipped this is the message he gets - girls are to be worshipped, valued and respected solely because of their gender and not for their personalities, talents, character and intelligence. Girls are made into some kind of special divine creatures in his eyes and if he is a good boy, represses his sexual desires long enough then he can have a special divine virginal creature too, for himself, when he grows up (one who will also pay him to marry her) But only after he has shown sufficient restraint that is! Oh the rude shock that a boy gets when that beautiful divine creature turns him down. No wonder that it results in so many cases of the suitor throwing acid on the woman’s face, unable to take rejection from her.

 In not so violent circumstances he pursues the girl relentlessly to win her affections. But there’s a thin line between wooing and stalking. When that line is crossed sexual harassment takes place. Rape is the result of a man not being able to see a woman as an individual capable of thinking for herself. He was conditioned to believe by the patriarchal system and the popular media that he has a prize to claim for himself, in the form of a girl. No wonder so many men handle rejection so poorly.
When are we going to stop punishing our boys by setting up this twisted fairytale for them?
God is in everyone and everything. God is in a woman, a man, a child, in nature, in the rivers and the trees. Not just women but every living being deserves to be respected regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, their personal choices in life and skin colour.

Respecting women is the need of the hour but now it’s clear that this argument is redundant and weak as it has proved to be over the years, that is until we learn to give respect to all genders.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

'Cycle waali chhori' : new chapters in street harrassment- Neha Singh

I have recently acquired a brand new, red, semi-expensive bicycle. I had wanted to get one for a long time. A lot of my fondest childhood memories revolve around my BSA SLR cycle that I had as a child. My father had taught me how to ride it when I was seven years old and since we lived most of my growing up years in small towns and cities, I always had quiet, safe streets to ride my cycle. Apart from serving recreational purposes, it was my vehicle to school, to the swimming pool or the badminton court, to tuition classes in the evenings and  going to friends' places. I remember knees that were constantly in bandages from the countless number of times I had fallen off my bicycle too, but that never ever discouraged me from getting on it and experiencing freedom that only a teenager on a cycle can understand.

Somewhere in the chaos of college, moving to bigger cities in pursuit of education and job, hectic lifestyle and crowded roads, I lost touch with my cycle. I am embarrassed to say that I don't even know what happened to my BSA SLR cycle. Whether my parents gave it away, left it in the junkyard or sold it off second hand. I have no clue!

Last month I bought a new bicycle, and I can safely say it is one of my best purchases in the last few years. I use it to go almost everywhere. I love the feeling of the sweat on my brow and the energy in my legs as I peddle along the cars and scooters. I love the fact that I can turn my cycle towards the beach or the panipuri stall or just stop to look at the cakes on display at the pastry shop without having to piss off the autorikshaw guy or creating a traffic jam. My cycle has reconnected me to the freedom and impulsiveness that I felt as a child on my bike.

What has been a brand new experience, however, is the whole new gamut of street harrassment I face on my cycle as a grown up.

Most of the times men give me strange looks and stare when I go by on my cycle. Sometimes they bring their cars and motorcycles really close to my cycle as I am riding and honk loudly to get my attention. Then when I do look at them, they grin or stare or make singing noises and then zoom past. This behaviour cuts across ages, class and I am guessing, religion. Young boys standing outside their schools and colleges point at me and laugh, while older men walking past or in cars and on scooters stare incessantly.

Once I was going past a posh mall in Malad (west) in the suburbs of Bombay and a bunch of young men dressed in expensive clothes and shoes, all wearing expensive shades laughed at me and made incoherent verbal comments as I cycled past on a hot afternoon.

Often, men on motorcycles will ride up to me, look at me and shout 'race, race, race karegi?' and then zoom off laughing. Then they stop a little way off, wait for me to catch up and repeat the 'race, race karegi?' comment.

Once I was cycling in Andheri and this man in a car slowed up close to me and said 'licence number?'. I looked at him curiously. What pleasure did he get out of saying that? After asking me 'licence number?' he drove off, grinning creepily.

The most hilarious part is, I often get men ON CYCLES themselves looking at me and passing comments as though I am doing something really bizarre.

I am still trying to understand what makes it so weird for men to see a woman on a cycle minding her own business. I thought maybe it is because it is rare. Possible. In a month I have seen only about seven or eight girls on bicycles and all of them were school/college students. So then is it weird for men to see a grown woman on a cycle? Maybe. Then why isn't it weird for men to see men on cycles? Because I have noticed MANY men on cycles in this one month. Does it make me more vulnerable to be on a two wheeler that goes much slower than a scooty, for example, and much more 'uncovered' than an autorikshaw/taxi/car.

Sometimes I feel like a clown, going by the number of men that laugh at me when I cycle past them, and I am happy I can provide comic relief to men that obviously need some kind of therapy. But I also wonder that if a woman on a cycle can be such a hilarious sight, why don't I evoke any laughter from women that I go past? Why am I funny only to men? Also, even if men do find the sight of a woman on a cycle peddling along funny, why do they point at me and laugh in my face. I mean, do they do that when someone falls on the road? That is pretty slapsticky too, right?

Anyhow, over the days I am getting a feeling that the comments, the laughs, the insensitive pointing and requests of racing are a collective brotherhood trying to make the sight of a grown woman on a cycle 'extinct' from the current situation of 'rare'.

Some of my friends also tell me that they have faced similar experiences when they jog/practice yoga/exercise/swim in public spaces. So, forgive my extrapolating, but then is this specific sexual harrassment a way to tell women that they should not/cannot be as physically strong or endure as much as men? Or atleast they shouldnt try doing it unless it is a structured event like a marathon or a cycle race.

Or is it just another excuse to harrass? Like, oh, a girl in short clothes: let me harrass her for that. Oh, a girl out at night, let me harrass her for that. Oh, a girl smoking! let me teach her a lesson. A girl on a cycle! Let me show her her place.

Well, these are just theories I am trying to mull over as I happily peddle past these harrassers. I couldn't care less or be bogged down by these incidents. My reconnect with my childhood is far more precious. But I really wonder when these men will grow up. Its high time.

To sign off with another bewildering experience, just today I was cycling home from work and a big SUV type car was parked on the side of the road. A young boy of around 18 and a middle aged man were standing resting their backs on the car. When they saw me coming up the road on my cycle, they started smiling at me. When I got closer, the older man pointed at me and said 'Puncture! Puncture!'. I looked down at the front tyre as I rode ahead. No puncture. I looked at the rear tyre. No puncture there either. I turned my cycle around and went back to the car. This time I noticed the saffrom flag with a roaring tiger on the dashboard. I also noticed the saffron T shirts the men wore under their shirts. This was an official Shiv Sena car.

I asked the man , "what were you saying when I rode past?"
After getting over the shock of a woman actually confronting him on a road, he said, "I was saying your cycle might get punctured.'
I said, "Why?"
"It could get punctured, you know. Like, if you ride over a nail or something."
I said, "your car could also get punctured, do people come in front of your car and say 'puncture, puncture' to you?
He said, "I just wanted you to be careful"
I said, "and what makes you think I am not?"
He said, "I was saying it for your own good."
I said, "I thnk you should leave people to figure out whats good and whats bad to themselves."
He said, "I think I made a big mistake by saying something for your own good."

That is when I realized that this Shiv Sainik in an S.U.V was just a symbol of the stifling patriarchal, misogynistic country we live in where men harrass women and later claim they were doing it 'for our own good' and had absolutely nothing to do with their concern and everything to do with their complete unacceptability of women's physical/mental independence and strength. A woman on a cycle is too much of an attack on the Indian man's fragile notions of masculinity and femininity. 

Here's hoping for a country full of women on cycles helping men break that notion. Enjoy the breeze in your hair as you peddle on.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The joys of midnight loitering- Neha Singh

Its been more than a year since we started loitering in Bombay, as a physical manifestation of the book 'Why loiter?' by Sameera Khan, Shilpa Phadke and Shilpa Ranade.

Devina Kapoor and I began loitering in parks, streets and chai tapris and before we knew it, the idea caught on and a lot of our friends and acquaintances joined us in our weekly loitering trips. Soon, we got in touch with the authors of the book and they joined us in our adventures too.

As we went on on our journey of loitering as a social and political statement towards making public spaces safer and friendlier to women, we discovered various innovative ways to keep the fun and masti alive. We cycled, we played board games, we read, we visited museums, we sat at chai tapris, we shared our world views, we invited men to come walk with us and we also discovered the very important tool of loitering post midnight.

In India, as in several other countries, night time and women on the streets just doesn't fit. There seems to be no justifiable reason for a woman to be out at night, making herself vulnerable to predators in every nook and cranny, unless she has a very very important reason to be out. In the 21st century, society has stretched its morality a bit to accommodate women out at night for reasons like, 'she works at a call center', 'media ka job hai na', 'it was her birthday and she was out with friends, and her brothers were there too', 'office mein meeting der tak thi', etc. Even when there seems to be a justification like a job or a once in a year type of celebration, parents are worried sick and often daughters take pride in saying, 'my father toh can't sleep only till I come back'.

I was in Delhi recently, performing a show about gender, public space and adolescence called 'Keep calm and hashtag' and the students in the audience said that 'forget night time, we toh aren't even allowed to step out alone in the day', 'my parents say I am like gold and they want to treasure me at home'. A young boy stood up and said, 'well, its not like boys want to rape girls, but if a girl does get raped, maybe it was her kismat'. The principal of a posh, renowned school in Delhi said to us over tea and chocolate brownies, 'have you noticed how all the girls that get raped in Delhi are the migrants, not the ones that are born and brought up in Delhi'. While some of us couldn't swallow the yummy brownies at her discourse, she went on to explain why this is so. 'Its because Delhi girls know how to handle themselves in public, while the ones that come from outside don't, thats why they provoke men to rape them'.

In the middle of all this, we at Why loiter?, decided to start loitering post midnight. Doing absolutely nothing even remotely justifiable, out on the roads, not wearing burqas or head to toe covering outfits, ONLY women, chatting, walking, laughing loudly, stopping, talking, sitting, moving ahead, till 2 or 3 in the morning.

When the Delhi students heard about this, they were shocked, surprised, didnt know how to react, clapped, asked questions, were inspired. I hope some of them find the courage and the motivation to start something like this in Delhi.

For now, a little bit about our post midnight loitering last night. We were three of us, Archana Patel, Pooja Nair and I. We met at Infinity mall Andheri at 11.45 p.m. and began walking towards the Cooper Hospital at Juhu, which is five kilometers away. A common experience at all our midnight loiterings are the auto wallahs that slow down almost a 100 meter as they approach us, and then keep looking our way, because obviously three women walking alone after midnight would NEED an auto, keep looking, keep looking, while we say 'nahi chahiye bhaiyya' a million times but our 'no' seems to totally escape their hearing, because 'obviously three women walking alone after midnight would NEED an auto'. The number of autos that stopped and did the same routine last night made me wonder, would men face a similar invasion when out visibly loitering at night? Also, I wondered where all these autowallahs disappear in the daytime when you are running super late to work!!!

Since it started raining as we turned left from Juhu Circle towards Cooper Hospital around 1.15 a.m, we decided to plonk ourselves on the tiny bench at the bus stop, to save ourselves from getting drenched. As we were animatedly discussing work life and the rains and politics and the state of the environment, a swanky SUV passed by, six middle aged men sitting inside, very fancily dressed and they stared at us as though they had just seen a bunch of tiny dinosaurs sitting at Juhu bus stop. They wanted to see us so much that they took a U turn at the signal, slowed down as they approached us, stared at us shamelessly, like we were straight out of the Ice Age, and then drove away,

We didnt move. It had stopped raining, but we were enjoying our little conversation too much to stop. Then another SUV passed by, also filled with educated and 'good family' men, and they stared at us too like we were, this time maybe they thought we were the three fire spitting dragons of the Queen Deneyrys Targayryen (you watch Game of Thrones, right?) They gaped at us, they 'checked us out', maybe they even said something to us (we were too busy chatting to pay any attention), they slowed down their car almost to a halt, and then drove on. A man with a gunny bag full of garbage came and dumped it close to the bus stop, 'checked us out', kept standing and staring at us for about five minutes, and then walked away.

Well, what can I say, some things transcend caste and class boundaries.
Indian women, for sure, know what animals in zoos feel like.

Anyway, we finished chatting and then headed to the brightly lit street side food joint adjacent to Cooper Hospital. To our much delight, there were truckloads of families there enjoying mmidnight snacks of pav bhaji, bhajia, sandwiches, falooda, dosas, uttapams and other delicious stuff. The place was so crowded that we had to wait almost twenty minutes before an extremely busy waiter came and took our order. We gorged on the most delicious pav bhaji and Rose Falooda.

We were done with our midnight adventures around 2.30 a.m, and all three of us headed in different directions. We had had a beautiful time together, in the cool breezy, traffic less night, inspite of the 'men from good families dressed in posh clothes and driving SUVs', the over zealous autowallahs that disappear in the day, the shamelessly staring rag picker and many other elements of a society that 'doesn't allow' its women to be 'unsafe' that we didn't have time to observe because we were having so much fun.

Midnight loitering is so much fun. I am sure most men have had the experience, but I want to ask all the women out there that haven't done it to try it out, just once, and enjoy the lonely, breezy, quiet streets at night with your girlfriends.

To end on a funny note, the same Principal that had her own theory of who gets raped in Delhi, why and by who, when I told her about our midnight loiterings she asked me if my parents allow me to do it, and without waiting for an answer, went on to inform us that she would NEVER allow her daughters to step out at night alone, especially the unmarried one. Her statements were so funny that I forgot to ask her why the stress on the 'unmarried' one?

Here's to a city, a country, and a world full of more women loitering on the streets in the 'unsafe' hours and experiencing their own cities without the hustle bustle of the daytime, just staring at the moon and the stars and walking on the roads without worrying about predators and protectors.

Friday, 1 May 2015

An all girls retreat!

A dear friend and colleague retired last month and we planned for an overnight stay at a resort. The inevitable questions followed – will it be safe, will it be too far from the city, will there be drunken people creating problems and so on. We finally zeroed in on an Ethnic resort. We had taken three rooms which shared a beautiful courtyard with a small traditional 'thinnai.' As we walked into our cottage, the enormity of our effort struck me. After reading ‘Why Loiter’ I have frequently wondered and kept noticing how several spaces are closed for ‘women only’ groups. And here we were, all 9 of us, who had displayed independence and resourcefulness to organize this get-together. The fact that two of us were driving our own cars added to the sense of independence.

As soon as we settled down, it was like a dam was broken and each one had so much to share. It was not just happy stories all the way – there were rantings and heartbreaking stuff too. Time flew and we decided to walk to the beach. Seamlessly we continued our talking and laughing and it is almost a blur now about what exactly we were laughing about. After dinner sitting in the spacious lawn we were utterly relaxed. A group of men were standing at a distance talking softly among themselves. We were so much used to snide comments and leery looks that a group of men behaving like human beings was a refreshing experience.

Talking till 3a.m, waking up at 6a.m for coffee at ‘thinnai,’ playing in the swimming pool for hours and sharing personal stories, our stay soon came to an end and we went back refreshed. I have many friends with whom I share a lot of things – friends across different ages, friends spread over many states and countries and so on. But this was special – it was all women with whom I have been working for many many years, women who are all young at heart and women who look for a way to stay happy and cheerful - bonding with these women was gratifying. Of course, we do not share the same ideals – I am a staunch atheist, a friend agnostic and the others are staunch believers. Yet the bond forged over years of working together and sharing lunch hours has been strong and sweet. We have always been supportive of each other and we motivate each other. We observed that in the many hours we spent together that day there was absolutely no gossip and we did not talk ill of a single person. Bonding and being there for each other and creating happy memories – now we know what Girl power means!

a story by Geetha TG

Friday, 24 April 2015

B.B.C writes about 'Walk like a woman'

Here is the piece by B.B.C on 'Walk like a woman', by Divya Arya.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

'Walk like a woman' features in Feminism in

Japleen Pasricha, feminist, writer, educator and activist is the founder and Editor-in-chief of feminism in She writes about the 'Walk like a woman' walk that Why loiter? organised on the 4th of April in Mumbai.
Here is a link to the article.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Walk like a woman.

On the 4th of April, Saturday night, we organised a very special walk, called 'Walk like a woman' where we invited men to come and loiter with us, in women's clothes. Here is a small film we made on that session. Please watch.

here is a link to the same

Monday, 9 March 2015

The enemy within- Dhruv Lohumi

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman who worked as a seamstress, boarded the Montgomery City (State of Alabama) bus to go home from work. She sat in the section of the bus reserved for white citizens under the ‘Jim Crow’ laws that legalised segregation of blacks and whites in public spaces. When the bus conductor asked her to give up her seat, she simply looked up at the conductor and said "I don't think I should have to stand up."
Her arrest, her challenge of that arrest in court and also of the segregation laws are now considered as one of the most important chapters of the American Civil Rights Movement. She has even been dubbed as “The First Lady of Civil Rights”.
It all started with her being in a public space she wasn’t allowed/supposed/permitted to be in.
Now in India, there are thankfully no ‘Laws’ segregating access to public spaces and yet women are treated as second class citizens (putting it mildly) whenever they are in them. So the all-important question arises. What is the solution?
Option 1
As appealing as they may sound. They are just an expression of the anger we feel at our own helplessness. Anyone thinking that this is a legitimate option should stop reading this article and join a right wing organisation…oh and also invest in a sword and a hockey stick.
Option 2
“I WILL PROTEST…ON FACEBOOK…I JUST SIGNED THREE PETITIONS ASKING THE MP FROM MY DISTRICT (whose name I do not know) TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SAFETY OF WOMEN! I WILL….Ooh! My ex just posted a picture of her and her new guy…bitch! #brokenheart.
Social media is great for getting information and mobilising support for actual activities and movements that people are starting and becoming involved in. But it in itself is not the protest/movement/whatever term you might be comfortable with. Besides internet penetration in India is about 20-30% of the population. That means that there are at least 700 million people who can’t hear you or like your new dp.
Option 3
Do something real. The problem in India is not a legal problem but a problem of perception. The recently banned documentary(btw, very lazy film making) clearly highlights the fact that no matter how stringent the law, so long as the custodians and enforcers of that law still draw from the current well of social discrimination, women will continue to be denied their basic rights and dignity.
Challenging these perceptions then becomes the only long term cure for the current plight of women in our country. For the past ten months or so a group called WhyLoiter? has been doing just that. Started by Neha Singh in Mumbai the group has a very simple agenda. To get women in the city to loiter in public spaces where “decent” and “respectable” women should ideally not be seen.
Any liberty or social right that is guaranteed to us is never appreciated. Hence no man ever thinks twice before heading out of the house or just hanging out at the local paan shop. We never think about how grateful we are to be able move about with such freedom or that brave men die or freeze to death on some far off glacier to protect our right to scratch our crotch and pee in public. Bottom line, no grey cells are harmed in the aimless public movement of the Indian male.
Disclaimer: The author is Neha Singh’s boyfriend and the following bit gets a little tricky so if his revelation leads to the reader having doubts about the credibility of this piece please feel free to shut this window….and also denounce it on social media. *Thumbs up* emoji.
“WOOOOOWW! What a great idea!”, “I’m definitely coming next time!”, “Cool ya! Add me to the watsapp group”. Just a sample of the reactions that are given when the idea is first shared with someone. A simple and powerful way of challenging the “guidelines” society has laid down for women to guarantee their safety, requiring nothing more than two-three hours on a Sunday and a sense of adventure. You would imagine enthusiasm would be high and participation would be strong.
And yet, watching Neha trying to get the same people who showed such enthusiasm and excitement to actually turn up reminded me about the times my mother tried to get me to eat that vegetable she knew I absolutely hated! After two or three messages are sent out on the WhyLoiter? Watsapp group during the week imploring women to turn up and do nothing more than hangout and socialise for a cause a turnout of more than three is considered a success. This on a group that has over 50 women registered.
Now Mumbai is a tough city to make a living in and when someone says that they can’t make it because of work or don’t even bother replying you can tell yourself that they must be doing something important….Except, it’s not true.
I am a huge football fan. I’m part of a group of guys who are all football enthusiasts (no women players….only because we don’t know any….but please feel free to join us someday). We play at least twice a week and have to pay about 200-300bucks per head to rent one of the artificial pitches in the city. In fact as I write this I’m also co-ordinating on our Watsapp group for tonight’s game because we can only have 16 guys on the pitch and right now 20 guys want to turn up so I’m going to have to disappoint someone. After the match we all get together and bitch about the lack of proper playing surfaces in the city. That is the extent of our troubles! When compared to what you face I believe the appropriate hashtag is #firstworldproblems.
I find it funny that we consistently get 16 guys, all of whom are working professionals in Mumbai, to pay money to kick around a ball for an hour on a Monday!(Mumbai traffic anyone?) for no other reason than it makes us feel good and yet Neha struggles to get 4 women to come to a Whyloiter? session. Thankfully a few individuals have become regulars and turn up for almost every session otherwise Neha would have to resort to taking me out dressed in drag(an idea she is actually working on…watch this space for more on that).
More than the apathy however it’s the cynicism, especially from other women which is even more baffling. Everything from “being waste of time” to “just upper class women hanging out” to “my guy friends made fun of this movement so now I too have doubts about it’s effectiveness” and many more. All from other women and close male friends who offer nothing but vague “revolution” theories or the same old “India ka kuch nahin ho sakta”. Funnily enough I’ve seen a lot of these people feature in a lot of those viral online videos about women.
 We can never really know how far the ripples of our action will go.(ugh…so sappy). Even for someone like me on the side lines this movement has helped me discover parks in Mumbai I never knew existed, a dosa wala who makes the best ‘sada dosa’, a road side chai stall in Goregaon where women can hang out and get a smoke and a cup of tea and just gaze at life passing by because everyone around has been sensitized to the presence of women due to the efforts of Neha and other women in the area and most importantly the fact that people from all sections of society and walks of life who have seen these women loiter on the streets, understand and agree with what they are doing.
I guess the point of writing all this is to say one very simple thing. We(men) can’t give you(women) what you want (freedom) because we don’t understand what that means to you. Just like African Americans fighting for their civil rights or Indians fighting for independence, you guys have to fight for what you want. We can stand with you, but we can’t show you the way. We tried…..buuut…you know that doesn’t work for you. To demand our support is your right. To ask for our approval is your defeat.
Change requires dialogue between those who believe in the status quo and those who believe things need to be different. Whyloiter? is about being a part of that conversation. Join them or start your own conversation.
Right! Now on to the bigger question. Who misses out on today’s game?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Dil pukaare 'Aarey, Aarey , Aarey'- Neha Singh

This Sunday Why loiter? supported another battle that people have been fighting for a long, long time, the battle to save trees and forests from the mindless urbanisation/deforestation/land acquisition that has become a grave threat to all forest cover in the country.
This time the battle is to save the Aarey Forest and grassland area from several 'development' projects that the government has proposed.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Aarey, it is a 4,000 acre forest land that was given to the tabela (dairy farm) owners in 1949, when this part of the city was way beyond the outskirts of the original 'island city' that finished at Dadar. This was done because at that time having tabelas in the city was considered an eye sore. That is when this area became the Aarey Milk Colony and soon developed into a green forest and grassland. Now, however, this milk colony has become the heart of the city, with Bandra and Dahisar on the west and Sion and Mulund on the east, and can easily be called the lungs of 64% of Mumbai's population.
Aarey Milk Colony is home to more than 20,000 trees, 76 species of birds, 86 species of butterflies, 13 species of amphibians, 38 different types of reptiles, 19 species of spiders and 34 different types of wild flowers. Leopards, barking deer, sambar deer, spotted deer, rusty spotted cat, jungle cat, civets, monkeys still reside in large numbers in this area.
Aarey colony , if protected and valued can be Mumbai's Central park or Hyde park, because it boasts of flora, fauna and landscape similar to these parks in New York and London. The only problem is, the political will and the awareness of the citizens. Neither value the importance of this green cover that essentially has become the lungs of this over populated and polluted city.

The Aarey colony is in grave danger because of atleast five 'development' projects proposed by the government that basically amount to cutting down almost ALL the trees in the area. These projects are
1. Construction of Goregaon Mulund link road which proposes to widen the road from its current 20 feet to 90 feet, which means cutting down at least 1,000 trees.
2, Car shed for line three metro yard- which means cutting down atleast 5000 trees.
3. Setting up of Force 1 training camp
4. Extension of Byculla zoo
5. Private encroachments.

On a Sunday morning, after having publicized the protest on all possible platforms, only 5,00 people turned up for the protest, the no-show largely because an India Pakistan match was on! Without losing hope, however, we armed ourselves with slogans and banners and moved to the area that is covered with fences and a green cloth marking it as 'Car shed for Line III metro yard' and encloses  many acres of land that was forest land just a few weeks ago but now looks like barren land with several road rollers, cranes, trucks etc.

There is a proposal to dig out many million tonnes of soil and dump it in the 'deep sea'. The truth is that 'deep sea dumping' leads to an imbalance in the water levels and that is why in the last few years the sea water has been coming onto the roads in Bandra, Dadar, Marine Drive, Gateway etc.

We got on the road rollers and trucks and made it clear to the MMRDA and we are unhappy about these mindless projects. There were children, women, the elderly, artists, photographers, journalists and every one was there for just one cause, save the trees.

The saveaarey campaign is a citizen led protest that started a few months ago and is working very passionately towards saving these 20,000 trees and the biodiversity that it is home to.

This is their website

This is their facebook page.

Next time when you are crossing the Aarey Colony please look out for the enclosed area with 'Car shed for Metro III yard' stop, get in, climb up on the cranes and road rollers, stop the men from working, click photos and upload them on your facebook and twitter pages.

This is important for all of us. Much more important than an India Pakistan cricket match on T.V. Next time, please do attend the protest and let the Government know that you care about Aarey.