If you visit the park near where you live on a regular evening, there would be some instantly observable patterns. While you might find boys of all age groups going wild, you would mostly see pre-pubescent girls, limited to a corner in the park. It is somewhat like a social symbolism of where our women presently stand, in terms of the unspoken hierarchy.
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On the closing afternoon of the Anti-Street Harassment awareness week, a bunch of both pre and post pubescent girls from the community settlement of Bandra plot in Mumbai came together to play at a nearby public park, as a symbol of them making their rightful claim to these spaces, something that women are implicitly inhibited from doing. Anu Salelkar and Ridhima, are two enthusiastic young women who work with Safecity, and helped organize this little initiative of the girls. Describing the context of the girls, Anu tells us:
“The community developed after the 1992 riots. A lot of Muslim families relocated here. Not all the girls come from families affected by the riots, but it’s a majority Muslim community here.”
The problems with the claim:
Getting girls out of their homes is not that easy all the time. Anu says, “A lot of times parents don’t send their children out. There are also a lot of structural issues why girls are not allowed, like spaces inaccessible, lighting is an issue. Sometimes the area itself is unsafe, because of certain things. Some spaces that are accessible during the day become inaccessible for girls post dark, mostly because of men hanging out there or lack of proper lights. A lot of times, the fact that sexual harassment gets blamed on to the girl stops the girl from actually going out, because they want to go through the entire mess.”
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Most girls who hit menarche turn shy and more reluctant to playing in the fields, especially when boys are watching. Parents are deeply indoctrinated to encourage such behavior, which becomes the trigger point of women slipping into oblivion. Most of the girls also don’t play beyond their school hours (that is if they haven’t dropped out) because they are expected to help in domestic chores, like filling up water and tending to the younger siblings.
“We need to change mindsets, which is a long and hard process. At least what we can do is get the ball rolling”, says Anu.
One of the girls, Khushi (name changed) tells us, “Moving in groups serves as a great source of confidence in movement and claiming access.”
Unsafe v/s perceived to be unsafe
There are both perceived and actually unsafe spaces. Anu shares her knowledge from conducting and attending numerous workshops and discussing experiences of women with street harassment. She tells us that the perception that a space is unsafe comes from the fact if there is a bunch of men hanging out in the vicinity. “It might not mean that the guy is actually harassing you, but a bunch of men generally become an unsafe area. Because A, women are taught from a very young age that a group of men are dangerous, Or B, their own past experiences.”