Thursday 29 January 2015

"Fall asleep-get raped" says who? : loitering to protest victim blaming.- Neha Singh

A 27 year old financial consultant in Delhi was raped on 5th December, 2014, by her cab driver. The cab service was the internationally recognized Uber cab service that claim they keep a track of their vehicles movement when on hire. They also claim to have completely clean drivers that have been police verified. Of course, these services are significantly more expensive than the regular black and yellow cabs that you see on the roads.
It was a Friday night, the girl was out with her friends and sat in the 'safe' cab at 10:00 pm and slept. And was raped by the driver.
When the incident hit the headlines, people weren't trying to empathize with the girl or debate on the credibility of the cab service or curse the rapist, they were busy blaming the girl for having been 'foolish' enough to sleep in a public transport.
Fall asleep-get raped' was the warning being sent out to all the girls across the country by their parents, partners and peers. 'Safety rules' had several new additions, including, note down the cab number and whatsapp it to atleast three people, keep talking to a friend (male) on the phone and do not step out unescorted.
Not many cared to look into the case history of the cab driver rapist Shiv Kumar Yadav, who had been in and out of jail for crimes like molestation, rape, carrying arms, breaking into someone's home, starting 2003.

Do NOT fall asleep in public transport, unless you want to get raped, was the message, loud and clear so , Blank Noise and Why loiter decided to challenge exactly that.
We said, 'my body is my property whether I am awake or asleep, whether I am in a public space or private space, whether I am under the influence of alcohol or drugs and no one has the right to violate it. Period!'

Blank Noise is a Bangalore based community art project , initiated by Jasmeen Patheja, and seeks to confront eve teasing and street sexual harassment. Why loiter joined hands with Blank Noise and decided to sleep in public spaces from 11:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m in two different public spaces in Bombay on Sunday, 11th Jan, 2015. This is what happened that day.

The park that we had chosen to sleep in is the BMC park opposite the Costa Coffee in Versova. When we got their, armed with pillows, quilts and bedsheets, the park was locked and the guard refused entry since the park timings are 6 a.m to 10 am and 4 pm to 9 pm . (I smell an anti-loitering rat here). So we went to another park close by, the public park in the Fisheries lane, near Seasons wine shop. This one was open! Yay!!

We spread our bed sheets and plonked on the grass. Chatting, lazing around, dozing off. Some passersby looked on, not amused by this unusual and 'rebellious' behaviour,

Four young girls were having a little picnic closeby, with their mat, a ball, some rooh afza and snacks. The gardener was kind enough to let us stay on till 1.30 even though the park shuts at 1 pm. But after that the park authorities forced the guard to shoo us away. When we pleaded with him to let us stay longer....

 this is what he did, he put on the sprinklers!!!

 When we hurriedly picked up our sheets and pillows and stepped out, he locked us OUT! and refused to let us in inspite of repeated requests. That was the end of our grand plan.

Meanwhile, in Chembur, some of our co loiterers were sleeping on the grass in a public park when the gardener came and said 'sleeping on the grass is not allowed'. When the girls shifted to the park benches to lie down, the cops came and shooed them away. That was the end of their grand plan.

How many such grand plans of loitering will be shot down by our families, peers, partners, society, media, cops, government? When will it be okay for a woman to lie down under the night sky in a public space and feel that she isn't doing something wrong or unsafe? When will the onus of sexual safety shift from the victim to the perpetrator? How many more times will we accept our own 'lack of judgement' and blame ourselves for the violation of our bodies?
The list of safety rules shoved down our throats are not only subjective, but also keep adding layers each time an act of violence occurs. When it was the Delhi bus gang rape they said 'why did she take a private bus?', when it was the Shakti mills rape they said 'but why go to such a lonely spot in the first place?' and now it is, 'why sleep in a public transport?'. These lists and these safety rules need to be set on fire. Catch every safety rule you have been taught by its tail, turn it upside down and do the exact opposite.

The new (and improved) safety rules book for women

Wear a short skirt at a bus depot

Smoke a cigarette on the road

Smile at strangers

Sing in public spaces

Dance in public spaces

Read a book on the pavement

Let your bra strap show

Laugh loudly everywhere

Talk loudly everywhere

Don't plug your ears with your headphones when you are alone at the road

Take a leak in a public toilet

Buy a condom from the medical store closest to your house

Buy alcohol from the wine shop late at night

Loiter alone

Loiter in the day

Loiter in the night

Hold hands in public

Kiss in public

Sit at that chai tapri and savor that cutting chai

Order dinner at that shady bar and restaurant and eat it alone 

Sit in the train with your legs wide apart

Go to sleep in a train

Go to sleep in a bus

Go to sleep in an autorikshaw

Go to sleep in a cab

and DO NOT note its license number.

If every woman started following this new rule book, how many women are people going to blame??

Sunday 4 January 2015

Encounters with predators and protectors....-Neha Singh

This was our second post midnight loitering session and unlike the first one, where we were four of us, this time there was only two of us, the ones who began the movement, Devina and I. The map we had planned to walk was from Kaifi Azmi park in Juhu to Lotus petrol pump in Oshiwara.
After a nice dinner of roadside hakka noodles and schezwan sauce at the chinese tapri opposite Kaifi Azmi park, the two of us began our loitering. It was twelve!

We began walking on the link road which was quite busy and lit up, at least till Juhu circle. We stopped at a coffee anna (a unique concept in Bombay where men on cycles park themselves at roadsides and sell coffee, idlis and cigarettes late at night, till the wee hours of the morning). We explained 'Why loiter?' to him and clicked a photo with him too. He told us that in seven years of his job this was the first time someone had asked him to pose for a photo. A young 'night jogger' also came for coffee and overheard our conversation. After a little conversation with him, we were on our way.

As the clock struck one a.m, and the streets began to get empty, our bodies became more alert. Several rickshaws stopped, hoping we would get on, but we told them we were just walking. A few strange and curious stares from men that themselves were loitering on the empty roads and we became more stiff and more aware of the dangers lurking around us. I missed the strength of numbers. Just one more woman with us would have made all the difference. But, we still walked on and even enjoyed a light hearted conversation about college times, ragging and teenage crushes.
'Tch psshhht', we heard someone call out. We didn't look up.
'Shhtchh psssttt' he signalled again. This time we looked up and saw a middle aged, middle class-ish man standing on the pavement and masturbating. He was staring at us, his hand on his penis, and smiling a broad smile. The shock was too great to react instantly, but a few moments later I pulled out my phone, aimed it at him and said , 'Bhaisaab, can I click a photo of you?" He looked stunned and confused for a moment, and I repeated, "Just one photo, please!" and this time he understood the consequences of getting a photo clicked in that situation. He ran like someone had lit his tail. We ran behind him for sometime, but he could easily give P.T. Usha a run for her money.
We burst out in giggles, and in the middle of all this chaos, a bunch of young boys came to our 'rescue' a little belated.
"What happened? What happened?" they asked most earnestly.
"Nothing spectacular. A man was masturbating and harassing us." we replied.
They seemed so embarrassed and shocked at our words that they just looked at each other with very affected concerned looks.
"But why were you two walking here? I saw you two, just walking around." one of them said.
"We were just chatting. Just like you are. Why, is that a problem?" we asked.
They again exchanged deeply concerned looks.
"Okay, just BE SAFE" they called out as we resumed our loitering.
"YOU TOO." we called back.
For a long time after that our 'protectors' followed us, making sure we didn't "land" ourselves in anymore trouble. We also saw our earlier pervert predator come back for his car and zoom off quickly.
Predators and protectors. Why do men always seem to fall in these two extreme roles when it comes to women? Extreme roles that become interchangeable if women cannot justify their own movement in public spaces.
Every space seems gendered and women and men acquire predetermined roles in public spaces. Women constantly aim to appear dignified, respectable and safe, and men lurk around as either predators or protectors. The interaction between the genders is always coloured in these roles, unable to think of each other as merely human beings with equal rights to public space.