For instance, Delhi University’s North Campus found its walls and footpaths painted with “Pinjra Tod” (break the chains) for its namesake campaign which aimed at fighting against sexist college and hostel directives. Earlier this year, farmers marched from all over Maharashtra to Mumbai to draw attention to agrarian difficulties and the fallacies of government action.
Both issues are starkly different from each other but are essential to the democratic process as a whole. Their discussion and realisation depends on the democratic ability to voice their dissent and the physical possibility of galvanizing like-minded forces in public spaces. But again, campaigns, protests and the quintessential Indian bandh are not the only pictures public space paints. Public spaces are essential because they are safe and familiar common spaces. They have to be open to all, accessible by all without fear or discomfort.
Public spaces are deceptively simple. Streets, parks, markets and maidans don’t just exist for their immediate value of enabling shopping, walking, sitting or transporting. They serve a much more fundamental purpose in cementing the community together. Public spaces foster democracy because they are spaces where people can come together.
Any functional democracy survives on the independence and vigilance of its people. Democracies thrive when there is political, civil and social accessibility. Public space is the physical embodiment of such accessibility. Public space impacts democracy because of the following fundamental characteristics:
In India, where our population far outruns our land, making our peace with the dearth of space is a necessity. However, there isn’t just a lack of physical land that taints our need for better public spaces, it is also that often, these spaces are unsafe and uncomfortable to minority individuals who access them.
Take for instance women and public space. Women access public space with a purpose, be it work, travel or meetings. They rarely languish in public at odd hours, especially without company.
The idea that public space fosters democracy is one that can be met only when individual citizens have complete trust in the safety and security of their public spaces. Dissent and dialogue cannot take place in an environment where public spaces are not held to the same standards as the democracy is.
Public spaces are ultimately essential to any growing community. For a heterogeneous society to function peacefully, it is necessary to build spaces conducive for social mixing, inclusion, civic participation and political freedom.
About the author: Priyanshi Vakharia is a Research Associate (Legal Reform) at One Future Collective.
Note: this article was first published here.