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?