by Payal Tiwari
This article was originally published on Everyday Feminisms:
I am writing this letter to you because I need a feminist friend to hear me out and help me look for answers. The social networking sites and my cell phone notifications are all full of my friends sharing and posting pictures of this certain movement that has taken over these days. A feminist movement called #WhyLoiter that urges women to loiter in public spaces and slams victim blaming.
While I agree to every ounce of what this movement says, my heart sinks when I imagine loitering in public places alone. I flip through some news pieces that hit the newspapers over 2014 only to find news articles about rape cases at home, school, workplaces and on the streets. And we are urging women to loiter? Where? These very places? That we must continue to gather and reclaim these spaces while some of us continue to get raped, teased, harassed, assaulted while accessing public places.
Yes! We need women to come out and be able to access public spaces freely, but can we do that alone by just coming out in big numbers? Did these movements, not flood our social networking sites after the December Rape case, in 2012? What did we achieve? A list of rape cases that happened that very week, that month and in the days that followed.
The movement is symbolic. But the women who work on the streets of Mumbai for a daily living – the ragpickers, the garbage collectors, the cleaners who mostly are lower caste women, will this movement make things easier for them? Is “symbolic” enough? Will I be able to sit alone on Marine Drive and not get stared at because this online campaign urges women to come out?
Yes, we need men to get habituated to seeing women loiter and understand that they should be able to loiter just as freely as a group of guys. But does the infrastructure, the roads, the lights, the PCR vans allow us to?
While we are at it, in this movement, uniting to be able to access public spaces – we need not just a symbolic campaign, but more radical ideas that allow us to be able to go out there and loiter. Voices that articulate our demands in a way that can be manifested in results that provide safety to women from across caste, class and religion.
Women get sexually harassed as they walk out with a can of water to use their community toilets. Does this campaign bring out a change in mindsets that lets women practice their basic right?
For me, loitering is just not enough. I get chills when I see a selfie in an abandoned place with a hashtag #WhyLoiter! I worry about the safety of that person because of the everyday violence that fills the news every day. We cannot just loiter and glorify women’s freedom in a state where infrastructure alone limits loitering.
While I ask all these questions, I do not doubt that movements like these are necessary. I am just disillusioned about our safety in the face of everyday violence that takes place in so many ways. Women vendors get sexually assaulted and yet we do not have a law that includes women in the unorganised sector (While Sexual Harassment law, 2013 covers the women in the unorganised sector, the Local Complaints Committee has still not been formed under the law that covers women in unorganised sectors).
PWDVA, 2005 tells women to continue staying with abusive husbands and women “chose” to stay with abusive husbands because the shelter homes are way more unsafe than their own homes. Lack of lighting and dingy places become hubs where women are raped, teased and assaulted. Are we targeting these essential elements while we question our ability to take risks and roam freely in the streets? Or have we forgotten the ideology behind it and have switched to a celebratory mode. Because that is where my problem lies.
It is problematic just as yet to celebrate women’s (restricted) access to public places and places of recreation. While several women continue to get raped inside their “private” spaces, we as women, do not get to celebrate being able to access public spaces.
While we create and publicise these movements, must we not expand the gamut to stakeholders and institutions who restrict our movement? Considering the following and the unity that this movement experiences in terms of various feminist groups, must we not move beyond asking women to just loiter? We need unabashed radical movements like slut walk, reclaim the night and #Why Loiter, but we must turn these movements into feminist voices that demand change not just by an online campaign and restricts our ability to bring change.
In these very difficult times, we need more. More than just a campaign on women’s safety. We need to be able to derive various strands that restrict mobility of women, include women from various classes and castes and ACT by articulating the barriers in our safety.
I want my fellow comrades to not just stop, but to take this fight ahead to be able to do more than just Facebook. Maybe this jitter is arising because these movements gives us hope, and then the hope is slammed by another rape case or a news piece of a celebrity being slapped because the perpetrator was sexually attracted to her. We have a very long way to go, and as much as these movements are a part of the fight, we must take them beyond the realms of social media and discussion rooms and pictures. We have to act.
First, I am sorry for the delay in responding to your email. Now that we have exchanged courtesies, I will try loitering in this space you’ve carved. #WhyLoiter from the point of view of intersectionality is deeply problematic, like every other Internet-based revolution of our time.
It is true that these movements are not conscientious of people from different classes, castes, gender and other social categories. Forget about being conscientious, these movements are almost alienating to those who do not have access to the Internet.
So, I understand your concerns about the seemingly piecemeal nature of these movements (or rather events). I also feel that you’re slightly bitter that we are stuck at the same approaches despite so much mass awakening in the past couple of months. We are still at the fundamentals, and the movements are not growing to become inclusive. Instead, these movements are growing, but rather fashionably. No?
Well, these questions disillusion me as well. You’re well aware of my stands on tackling grassroots issues like poverty, feminization of agriculture, food insecurity by means of feminist praxis. But I feel like that however beaten and limited these movements like #WhyLoiter or “reclaim the night” are – these are a part of the struggle.
I don’t want to deny myself the participation and solidarity with these movements. Even in the upwardly mobile social groups, we are not in a post-feminist state.
My mother is always worried about me when I am loitering alone in Delhi, after dark. But I keep telling her ‘ye meri zindagi ka sangharsh hai’ (however melodramatic it sounds).
I am scared sometimes, but I don’t want to be scared. Let’s assume this to be a revolutionary act rather than a lazy attempt at partaking in a campaign. We do need systemic change, but collective individual battles will also pool to change. Even the ocean is made of tiny drops.
I want to perceive the glass as half full, rather than half empty.
You’re absolutely right in all that you’re saying Payal. But! Don’t lose hope! These campaigns are not stopping us from simultaneously working on the bigger picture. The wall is big and all kinds of writings must go on it.