Are Safe Spaces Liberating Too?

Are Safe Spaces Liberating Too?

India has been tagged as a perilious place for women. Many have vehemently argued against this. I have been a believer of India as a safe country for women. One may question what gives me the authority to advocate this thought.

In my defense, I have travelled over 3,300 kms across 7 states of India in public buses (except five times when there were no buses along the route or when they refused to take off). It took me 35 days, four pairs of clothes, innumerable good-hearted people and ZERO peppersprays to finish this journey. I returned perfectly safe.

Since I finished this journey one and a half years back, I have been trying to change mindsets. My fondest memory of safe women is a scene in a train compartment.

I was 13 days into my journey. Given that there were no direct buses from Ratnagiri to Mumbai, I decided to cover this stretch by train. I had to wait for three hours at the station. Three young boys running a Chai-Pakoda shop kept me company sharing stories about them quitting education, running away from home and regretting the decision.

Three women from the midst of nowhere came and started talking to me about well, my attention-seeker backpack. They thought I represented India in sports (wish that was true) and I was travelling to play. Since their destination was also the same, they asked me to join them.

The train arrived and I boarded with the ladies. It was the first time ever that I was travelling in a ‘Ladies Compartment’ in a train. What I saw made me smile and wonder.

These ladies were a different breed in that compartment. Solo travellers slept fearlessly with their faces covered with dupattas and towels, nostrils flaring and mouths wide open. Older travellers parked themselves wherever they could – two of them squeezed themselves between my feet. Some stood at the open door gazing outside, unfettered by the strong winds. Some sang and a little girl, with two front tooth missing, danced like she was in a party. Everyone else cheered and clapped for her like they were in a party. Strangers spoke, made each other laugh, brought each other chai and samosa. Some fought when their request to make space on a two seater which was already occupied by five wasn’t met. Indeed women in a ‘Ladies Dabba’ of a local train were the happiest.

This compartment felt like the most liberating space for women in our country. In that moment I was too busy making mental and actual notes, having gup-shup, capturing moments and creating memories for myself.

Though, much later, this experience raised questions in my head when I read a piece on how women negotiate public spaces in India. Images after images and memories after memories crossed my mind about the ways in which I have negotiated spaces because of perceptions of threat and a strong sense of unease.

Perceptions of threat have forced me to follow rules and advise other girls about using public spaces cautiously. To wait at a bus stop and not any other place is a common strategy to stay safe that most Indian women will swear by. Like the article says, we strategise everyday – carrying sharp objects like keys and pepper sprays, saving quick dial numbers on our phones, walking faster or not walking at all after sun-down, rolling our windows up while driving through dark lanes. I even switch from English songs to Hindi or a regional one while driving past streets that are not well-lit. The list is never-ending.

I proudly admit that I was safe throughout my 3,300 kms journey (no weapons used). But I also confess that I was vigilant all the time. I could not afford a moment of negligence. My trip plan included reading up on safety tips for solo women travellers in India. I was prepared for the worst and ready to walk away from any space/ conversation without giving rise to a conflict situation. The spaces I went to were safe – nothing unpleasant really happened. But are safe spaces equally liberating? I now wonder if there are any other liberating spaces in our country other than the ladies compartments in the trains.

The answer is a clear no. The attempt must be to create such spaces. Why loiter, the beautiful initiative, has created ripples since inception and it continues to do so. To take things a step further, to empower women using digital media to its best advantage, to stand up against violence and deep rooted gender bias, Srishti Bakshi will walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. If you want to jon hands in this initiative, click here.

The 3,300kms travel across India was an initiative of the group, The Travelling Trinity formed by Sangeeta GoelHimanshu Shekhar and Kamal Haz. While Sangeeta Goel travelled solo in public buses for 100kms to 150kms everyday, Himanshu Shekhar and Kamal Haz cycled everyday on the same route, covering the same distance.

This blog was written by Sangeeta Goel and first appeared here.

NOT ‘not my problem’

I remember walking into the local Chinese school where I taught, just a few days before Christmas in 2012. I was planning to teach the kids Christmas carols and was already humming happily. As the only Indian in the school, I was always treated nicely but distantly. I suppose my colleagues struggled with English and didn’t want to make the effort to converse.

That day was different. There was a group of four women sitting together and looking visibly pained. As I walked in with my cheery good mornings, they responded and then one hesitantly said, ” We hear bad rape in India. We sorry.” They were talking of course of the Nirbhaya case.

In that one second, I paled, retched, sobbed, fumed and cried all at once. There was no condescension in their voices, just genuine concern. And in that one second, the armour of ‘Not my problem!’ that I had built up my entire life, crumbled.

Growing up in India, we hear stories of violence, injustice and oppression against women every other day. As working adults abroad, when we read these same stories, they make us cringe, make us embarrassed and make us thankful to have left India. But deep down, they also make us feel guilty. Guilty that we aren’t able to help in any way.

I’m proud to know this incredible woman – Srishti Bakshi. She is an absolute inspiration.
She has been nominated as a Champion for Change 2017 under the Empower Women Initiative of United Nations Women. This September she begins a 260 day journey walking the entire length of India (3,800km!), campaigning to make India a safe and equal place for Women. She will be conducting workshops to empower women through financial and digital literacy.

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Preparing for the long journey ahead

Srishti was an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) like me, with a high paying job in Hong Kong. It would have been easy for her to say ‘not my problem’ and turn a blind eye. But she didn’t.

I’m going to join Srishti in Project CrossBow. With two children under four, I won’t be able to join the actual walk, but I can participate virtually. Every step I take while here in Hong Kong gets counted on the CrossBow app and unlocks funds by corporate and philanthropic sponsors towards organisations in India, working to empower women.

To go from a one-woman walk to a nation-wide Modern Day Dandi March, CrossBow is going to need great virality and social media galvanisation. And that’s where my expertise as a digital marketer comes in. Because this is my fight. This is my movement. This IS my problem.

 

 

 

 


 

This blog was written by Anita Balagopalan and first appeared here.

Modern day Dandi March

Nowadays it’s fashionable to diss Mahatma Gandhi and his belief in a united India, dignity of labour and non-violence. And for sure, his political ideas were for a less complex world. But the master strategist that he was, I think he would have adapted. It sounds almost blasphemous to reduce the Father of the Nation to some sort of low level political opportunist. After all, he was an idealist, incorruptible and selfless. And they are seen as schmoozers, sly and selfish. They needn’t be. They are simply the people who devise plans to reach an end. The means is what makes them selfish or selfless, incorruptible or dubious.

Violence against women is perpetually in the news these days and the horrors of gang rape, dowry deaths, acid attacks and honour killings are too lurid and omnipresent to ignore any longer. It is a slap in the face of India and its claim to its modernity and progress. So how can we end this scourge of violence against women in India? By invoking the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in the nation that he helped bring to life.

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I’m proud to be associating myself with Project CrossBow to raise my voice against this surge in crimes against women in India. You can too.

To read more and support the campaign, please visit https://milaap.org/fundraisers/AnitaforCrossBow?utm_source=email&utm_medium=fundraisers-title


 

This blog was written by Anita Balagopalan and first appeared here.

 

 

 

 

Our Goal

 

Our Goal

This September, Srishti Bakshi, on her Modern Day Dandi March, will be walking 3800 km (2300 miles) from Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu (South India) to Srinagar, Kashmir (North India). With this on-foot journey, we hope to collect ONE BILLION STEPS, from you towards making India a safer country for women.

 

How will we achieve our Goal?

We know that each one of you strives to give your time and hard earned money to fight for causes you believe in. It’s hard!
What if we told you that your daily steps, clocked into our App will unlock funds by Corporate/Foundation/Philanthropic DONORS to benefit Non-Profits who are working on-ground protecting women and girl-child rights in our country. CrossBow , a mobile app , where you will clock in your daily steps is a mass outreach and engagement platform tailored for cause-driven campaigns.
We will be on the road for 260 days, walking from one city to the other. During this walk  our team of Arrows will be –
  1. Conducting Workshops on  financial and digital literacy to empower women
  2. Build an extensive volunteer network of change-makers on-ground who will continue the mission
  3. Document stories through shooting a documentary feature film.

CrossBow Preparatory Walk

 

This is a call to action. Everyone who’s cringed or raged about violence against women, YOU can be a change-maker. Back our Modern Day Dandi March. Violence against women is perpetually in the news these days and is a slap in the face of India and its claim to its modernity and progress. We are tired of hearing that India is NOT a country for Women, tired of just waiting for someone else to bring about CHANGE.

Our Milaap Campaign

This is a call to action. Everyone who’s cringed or raged about violence against women, YOU can be a change-maker. Back our Modern Day Dandi March. Violence against women is perpetually in the news these days and is a slap in the face of India and its claim to its modernity and progress. We are tired of hearing that India is NOT a country for Women, tired of just waiting for someone else to bring about CHANGE.

This is a shout out to you, our fellow countrymen and change-makers across the world.