Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Our first film- Neha Singh

Last Saturday we celebrated five months of loitering in the city. We loitered post midnight at Shivaji Park, Dadar and also made a small film. Here it is. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

'Want to fuck?'- an American woman's bittersweet memories of Indian streets- Kat Lieder

I have a vivid memory of the first time I was aggressively sexually harassed on the street in India. I was 19 years old. I had been in India for less than a month. I was attending a Hindi-language program in Jaipur and was proficient enough in Hindi to converse with my host mother about politics and watch films without the subtitles on. It was a hot day in July, and the sweat dripped down, pooling in the small of my back and causing my kameez to stick to me. I had my dupatta draped over my head, hiding my red hair and protecting my skin from the sun. I was walking home with a friend, another white, female student. A car with four men in it pulled up beside us, coming dangerously close to running us off the road, and one of the men leaned out the passenger-side window. “Hey,” he called. It was not the first time someone had awkwardly tried to engage us in conversation. With my pale skin, I stuck out like a sore thumb in a part of Jaipur where tourists never visited. But this man wasn’t done. “I want to fuck,” he called. “Are you ready?” What kind of response was this man hoping to get? Certainly not a “yes, certainly, take me here and now,” right? Instead, because I was angry and hurt and confused, I shouted back at him. “Behen chod!” Sister-fucker. “Go away!” He pulled his head back into the car, and it took off. We continued walking, shaken, but feeling victorious for having scared them off—until the car came back around the corner and drove straight at us. The part of Jaipur we were in had no sidewalks; there was no place to get out of the way. We stood there helplessly as the car came bearing down on us, the men inside shouting obscenities. The car didn’t hit us. I’m here writing this, after all. Instead, it stopped a few feet from us and then trailed us all the way home. As we walked through the front gate of our host-mother’s house, the men sat in their car on the street, their eyes on us. I felt vulnerable, outraged, frustrated by the way the situation had escalated, by my inability to do anything. And I had a strong realization that the streets of India were always going to be like that for me, a place where I had no control, no power over how I was treated, over who looked at me and how they looked, over what they said.
This incident was a long time ago now; I turned 27 this past summer. But it stayed with me for years, making it extremely difficult for me to trust the good intentions of any man who spoke to me on the street. Which is why, when I encountered a group of young women who dared to take up the radical challenge of Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade’s Why Loiter, who made a point of loitering in a public space in a way that women almost never do, even in the supposedly liberal city of Mumbai, I asked to join them. I am a Ph.D. candidate now, studying theatrical responses to the gang-rape of Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. To me, the act of loitering seemed like a perfect act of protest against such atrocity. Women should be free to move through space as men do without being terrified of the potential for sexual harassment and assault, and the best way to make that argument is to do it, to take up public space and make it our own.
We were meeting near a chai stall in northwest Mumbai on a hot, late afternoon in July. I met a member of the group outside a large mall, hopped into an auto-rickshaw with her, and we were off. I am always nervous about finding my way around in new places in India; it’s that same fear of vulnerability, of helplessness, that I get from being regularly sexually harassed. So when it took us a few minutes of wandering to track down the group of women we were meeting, I began to worry. What if we couldn’t find them? Was this an ok neighborhood in which to be lost? Were we safe? I hate that I think these things, hate that I have to think them, to put my concern for my physical safety above my desire to explore new places and meet new people. We did, eventually, find the group and sit down together on a step to drink chai and eat some snacks. People stared. As we expected them to. But there was a safety in numbers, a feeling of power we shared as a group of ten-or-so women laughing and talking with one another, trying to feel and perform the same sort of nonchalance that men have in public space. We were just hanging out.
The chaiwallah seemed delighted by us, whether because of the extra attention we drew to his stall or because he knew our organizer, Neha, relatively well. He offered us free cups of chai and glanced back at us regularly to see if we needed anything. A group of men wandered up to the stand and looked confused about where to sit since we women were taking up the prime seating location on the steps. Eventually, they sat down next to us and started talking with us. A few of us darted out of the group to take pictures as the street scene unfolded. As afternoon drifted into evening, our loitering party began to break up. Nervous still about traveling home after dark by myself, I accepted an offer to share a rickshaw with another woman and we left.
It isn’t as if this one act of loitering, of protesting through placing our bodies in spaces in which others aren’t used to seeing them and demanding that we be treated as if we belong there, is going to change my approach to public space in India. I’m still nervous and on edge most of the time when I am out and about, waiting anxiously for the next incident of harassment. I’m still extremely careful about being out after dark. If alone, I record my auto-rickshaw’s plate number, call a friend, and loudly give them the information. However, these women give me a lot of optimism for the future. I hope that more women like them stand up, draw strength from one another’s sisterhood, and demonstrate that they have just as much right to public space as men do.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Because pictures speak louder than words...- Neha Singh

Why loiter? Mumbai Chapter approaches its fifth month of inception and with great pride and joy I share some of the images that we captured over our various beautiful days of loitering....

For those still unclear about what we do...we are a bunch of women in Bombay that meet up every weekend at a pre decided public space and just loiter. No purpose: no shopping, no waiting, no 'on my way' home or to work or to a party or to a dance class or to the doctor...no...just, plain loitering.
Slowly trying to create a new mind space among men and women that a girl, without purpose, in a public space, is NOT a prostitute/slut/loose/suspicious/weird/inviting trouble/unsafe/rash/careless/to be protected/deserves to be raped/harassed/shown her place/rebuked/scolded/sent home/stared at/reported etc etc.

Inspired by the book 'Why loiter?' written by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, we were two to begin with and now over thirty women have participated in our loitering at least once, we are gaining strength, popularity and solidarity. We are cycling, walking, talking, playing, eating, sharing, reclaiming the night...

Here are some images from our loitering times

sharing a joke at a public park in Versova

Early one Sunday morning, it was pouring cats and dogs, and we decided to loiter at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Lazing around in a lovely park at Versova

chatting at the Fort gardens in Bandra....Sameera, one of the authors of Why Loiter? joined us

Juhu...past one a.m. ...nocturnal birds

sipping on cutting chai at a chai tapri in Goregaon...

Biking at Bandra

Stop over at a roadside cafe

If you are in Bombay and love loitering, or have been loitering and want to share your story with us on this blog, do write to us at whyloitermumbai@gmail.com