Early sunset for eves in public places

No Entry : Bhumika Rajan explores the restrictive nature of public spaces for women in our country

Early sunset for eves  in public places

Going by the boards placed near sites of historical, cultural, or commercial importance, public spaces are marked open for everyone. But beneath the glitzy covering of such signs lie ghosts, which pass diktats as to who can occupy that space and why.

If understood on a deeper note, the ugly face of urbanity, that lies hidden beneath these spaces, becomes visible. It suggests a certain authority that suffocates individuals by imposing certain ideas and rules on them. It implies drawing lines for different categories of people and asking them not to venture beyond those lines.

The right to inhabit certain kinds of spaces seems to be, in a way, inherited by specific groups. Such a trend points towards the decreasing space of democracy, at least in the context of India. If a public space is openly marked “No Entry” to a certain set of people, the barring of entry becomes very visible. But how do we measure the accessibility to a space that claims to be open to all but society makes an unwritten rule to deem it otherwise?

Public spaces

What constitutes a public space? Right from a street, park, glitzy shopping mall, cinema theatre, restaurant, to a bus terminus and market, all are public spaces. It implies that it is open to all people. But the accessibility of these spaces is what needs to be given some thought.

The aged for instance, cannot afford to stride along the roads or pavements at a pace that is comfortable for them. It is not regarded as ‘safe’ or ideal to walk in a park, or walk on a pavement, or cross roads that are flooded with dazzling lights of vehicles.

Pavements are, in most cases, narrow. Sometimes, the motorists don’t actually mind plying on the pavements as well. The movements of children are regulated because they are not considered capable of managing themselves without an older person accompanying them. “Safety” becomes the reason. But the voice of concern camouflages the face of authority that lies beneath.

The macho young man can occupy any space and it is cool for him to be out at night and hang out with friends. Or zoom around the city in his sports car, flaunting a monstrous silencer that is sure to give heart patients a cardiac arrest. Young women, however, need to ‘mind and mend’ their paths, and behave ‘properly’, and not try to ‘carelessly’ explore the city they happen to inhabit. So, it is not the young, but young man who seems to possess the sole right over the road, especially after it turns dark or to be specific, after 10 or 11 PM in the night. This is the case with nearly every city, at least in India.

Vimala C T, a lecturer in English at Vijaya College, Bangalore, says, “How can anyone feel comfortable in a world inundated by everything that's ugly? For a woman, it is more pathetic as she is subjected to unwarranted scrutiny and judgements, that is nobody's business but her own. She is objectified, commoditised, and criticised.”

Safe and sound ?

It is not at all unusual to hear elders at home constantly express their concerns and worries about the safety of young women who do not return home by sunset. But what do young, urban women feel about this fear of public spaces ? Vijayalakshmi S Raju, an HR executive at a Multi National Company says, “I feel more comfortable within my home and prefer to be back from work or an outing before its too late. I can never feel comfortable walking alone or even with a group, especially after 9 in the night.”
Woman, mind your path!

Women are repeatedly reminded of the safety within the private spaces as opposed to the public space. These safety calls are not simple, innocent statements.

In the wake of a brutal sexual assault on a young woman in Delhi on the 16th
of December, 2012, women have been warned to take precautions in certain
public spaces after a certain point in the day.

In some cases, they have even been warned against venturing into the public after sunset. This, again, comes covered in a sweet coating of ‘care’, ‘concern’, and ‘protection’.   

Slogans cannot counter the patriarchal denial of public domains for women, in the context of modern-urban India. When acts of violence occur on women in these public spaces, the patriarchal tradition gloats in the sucess of its warning women from venturing out after sunset.

As with every other space, the woman’s body becomes the subject of target in the public. Irrespective of the many facets of a woman, she is always scrutinized in terms of her body.

Then the restrictive nature of public spaces in our country only stands to account for the unfair victory of a male-centric world over the female body.

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