By Kanika Katyal:
“Imagine women in saris, jeans, salwars and skirts sitting at the nukkad reflecting on world politics and dissecting the rising sensex.” – #WhyLoiter.
Recognising that the politics of space are constituted by and constitutive of gender, #whyloiter argues for women’s fundamental right to access public spaces. The #whyloiter campaign was launched on December 16, to mark the two-year anniversary of the heinous Delhi gang rape incident and borrows the title of a book called ‘Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets’ by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, which explores women and public spaces in Mumbai. Since then, women irrespective of caste, class, religion or geographical divisions have participated in large numbers to express their solidarity with this event. Inviting the old and the young alike, the movement demands not “conditional access” but complete freedom to wander in public spaces.
1. The very term “loiter” explains the spirit of the movement. According to the oxford English Dictionary, “loiter” means “to stand or wait around aimlessly, idly, without apparent purpose.” The term is understood with negative connotations so much so that the authors cite the Bombay Police Act, 1951 whereby: “laying or loitering… shall on conviction, be punished…”. Loitering has been universally assumed as a male prerogative. The movement identifies itself as an act of dissent against this very notion. Women do not need to give an explanation to be at a particular place.
I do not need to confine myself to the interiors of the authoritative institutions – the home or the college/workspace, alternating between the two at regular intervals. Women deserve as much to have fun. I have as much right to enjoy a masala bollywood movie, indulge into retail therapy, savour a cup of hot chocolate while I bask in the winter sun, or simply be on the streets. The initiative also acts as a counter to repressive ideas about controlling a woman’s sexuality as the notions of morality and culture are strategically designed to keep a woman within boundaries and limits, and a woman who loiters on the street is seen as a threat to the patriarchal order.
#whyloiter The number of times I’ve pretended to be busy on the phone because I was waiting on a road for friends to show up.
— A (@Apoorvasripathi) December 18, 2014
2.The demand is primarily for safer public spaces. Pitched as a counter to the concept of victim blaming, the authors discourse upon what they call the “right to risk”. Thus, the demand to claim public spaces is built within the larger framework of fundamental rights. Women have a right to confront their anxieties and fears surrounding the designated “dangerous spaces”. The authors assert that surveillance is no solution to addressing the problems of women’s security. What they are aiming towards is not protection by patriarchal authority, but the freedom to exercise their agency without fear.
3. Picture two scenarios. One is an upper middle-class lady doing her grocery shopping from the neighbourhood. The second one is that of another woman dancing the night away at a disco. Both women are located outside of their homes, the difference is that the former is a sanctioned space while the mere act of setting foot in the latter is seen as transgression. The movement seeks to end such polarities, as the construction of such binaries is the fundamental obstruction to gender equality. There is no such thing as the “wrong place” or the “wrong time”, when in reality women are equally unsafe at home.
Imagine going to a bar, having a couple drinks and then walking home by yourself. #whyloiter
— Mansi Reddy (@BornReddyy) December 18, 2014
4. The movement also aims at directing the state’s attention towards corresponding infrastructural changes such as the need for clean accessible public transport, street lighting, and clean toilets among a few. If urbanisation accompanied by socio-economic changes leads to development of certain spaces, it also inversely causes marginalisation of others. Women who reside in slums or other areas marked by deprivations face further barriers to female empowerment. Their access to education, employment and healthcare facilities is met with constraints. While for men the act of migration or mobility constitutes an important ‘rite of passage’, for women such freedom is challenged.
5. The demand is not for a utopian space or for special spaces for women, but creating possibilities for everyone. The authors declare, “the intent is to rehabilitate this act of hanging out without purpose not just for women, but for all marginal groups.” There are instances when Transgenders/lesbians/gays are also treated with hostility due to their infringement upon spaces that they “do not belong to”. By claiming visibility, they are marking their presence in the civic apparatus. By eliminating the division between “Us and Them” based upon the exclusion principle, the movement paves way for gender equality and an inclusive citizenship.
Why Loiter? Because I refuse to sit on the fence.
Let us aim towards occupying that critical space beyond all subscriptions and representations of gender where our location does not add to maintain the status quo or stability of a predictable order but acts as a resistant discourse towards crystallization of the individual identity. Because “Not all protests are marches, some are strolls.” So, why should boys have all the fun?
To know more about what I think of this story, follow me on twitter at @Kanika_Katyal