They came in one’s and two’s; they came with children and dogs. They came with open minds and free spirits.
They were women (and some men) from various walks of life - artists, poets, CEOs, IT & media professionals, teachers, homemakers, taxi drivers, cops, students and leaders/members of voluntary organisations.
Some came with friends; some came alone. They brought books and games. In no time at all, it seemed everybody got to know everybody else. There were neither speeches nor slogans, and absolutely no pontificating.
SHE Collective Hub had invited women for a gathering at dusk, at the Bandstand in Cubbon Park on January 7. We asked them to bring books, headphones, and to wear whatever clothes they felt comfortable wearing, to linger and loiter, in an affirmation of women’s right to public spaces.
Some recited poems; some shared their experiences and some others argued! They asked questions, expressed opinions, and assuaged fears.
There were meetings of minds, sharing of thoughts and feelings; unrehearsed, unhurried and unbiased. There were smiles, laughter and happy chatter. The informal and easy atmosphere allowed people to relax and strike a rapport with each other, and perhaps longer associations.
Highlights of the event at the Bandstand, Cubbon Park, Bangalore on Jan 7, 2017
Sumathi Rao, Director, Media & CSR, Philips India, spoke about the issues that come up in slums.
Several women suggested viable ways to move ahead
You can hear them here
Ammu Joseph, author & journalist, Sandhya Mendonca, publisher & author, Dr. Jija Hari Singh, IPS, Revathy Ashok, public policy catalyst
Vandana Suri, Founder & CEO of Taxshe, & her articulate team received a rousing welcome. Suri said, "We are women drivers. We keep women safe as well as children. That’s why we are here because we are the biggest supporters of women’s safety here”.There were powerful voices of several other women.
Dr. Jija Hari Singh, IPS (retd), the first woman police officer of
Karnataka, said, “Basically women have to be confident, women have to be confident individually and collectively that we also own public spaces. We also have a right, we also have a responsibility to assert that right. I thought it was a fantastic idea. Not a flag-holding, placard holding protest but to empower ourselves and others. Plus, I would like to sort of represent the police department also in a way.
Though I am retired, I was the first woman in 1975 to join the police. As such, I am the senior most police officer in Karnataka and therefore I have a special right and a responsibility to respond to the anxieties that the women are facing. And a lot of complaints are against the police. I am here also to find out how and what are the ways in which the police can be made more effective. Of course some of the responses have been not compassionate, not censored, that has further aggravated the problem.
So, how can we make our voices heard? How can we start a conversation? A positive conversation among ourselves, with the society at large, with the communities and also with the practitioners, police officers, judiciary, lawyers, media.
Whatever you can do, small or big but we have to do something, and we have to send a strong message to the boys, to the men who are harassing, molesting, who are saying things which are unkind, insensitive and which are not compassionate. I would like to congratulate those who have thought about this very nice and gentle, very effective way to send a message to everybody.
" Revathy Ashok, CEO of BPAC, invited #WomenInThePark and She Collective Hub to align with the Billion Eyes programme for women and child safety. She said,"I'm very happy to show solidarity for women and children. We at B-PAC are doing a lot of work for the safety of women and children. We have a platform called BeSafe and we run a campaign called ‘A Billion Eyes - It takes all of us’ campaign. This is a complex problem and which need multiple stakeholders to be engaged – politicians, citizens, society at large, parents, employers and employees.Let us all join hands and try and make Bangalore a model city and a safe city.”
Krutika Sogal, Executive Officer at BHIVE: "I want the women in Bangalore and all around India to enjoy the same levels of safety and freedom that anybody else in the world does. I am not expecting the moon but just want to come into a beautiful place like this and not feel like there is unwarranted attention, and not feel like somebody is out to get me.”
Rima Kashyap, Journalist: “I want to be what I am. I don't like anyone to tell me what I should and what shouldn't I. Basically it’s the attitude around us, of people who like to tell others what to do but they don’t do it themselves...Men should practice what they preach and then they will know that what they are saying about women, what they do with women, they should do to themselves first. For example urinating against the wall - no woman does that, it’s only men who do it. We will have a cleaner Bangalore if men were a bit more sensitive about the way they behave.”
Ammu Joseph, Journalist & Author: “I am here to show solidarity with the women in Bangalore and with the men who don’t believe in the kind of behaviour that took place here on New Year’s Eve. I think it is time, even though if we look here, there is a majority of women, of course because it is #WomenInThePark, but I really think it is the need of the hour for men to step out and say enough is enough. And zero tolerance for violence against women.”
Romi Revola, Artist: “We don't want to feel like it is unsafe for us to go out after a certain point of time or unsafe to go to certain parts of town. We don’t want to be put into an invisible cage. I think it is helpful when lots of women come together in public and do this, and do it consistently, it empowers us and also empowers other women, that is why I am here.”
Shreya Krishnan, Communications & CSR professional, recited a poem that drew an enthusiastic response from the group; here is an excerpt:
“She was born with it, A list of do's and don't's, Ingrained from the womb, Imbibed from her mother, Her birth was not celebrated, Her mother was cursed, For what was a girl child worth?....."
Sandhya Mendonca, MD, Raintree Media & catalyst, SHE COLLECTIVE Hub, recited a short verse.
In Other Media
"We thought of doing this event just to tell women that it is safe to go out anywhere in public. The park is just a metaphor for any public space that women can claim, and we don’t see why anybody should tell us not to use this space or any other public space that we can.
The meeting in the park is something that we feel will be a more continuing process, and this can be done by women anywhere in the world in solidarity with the women in Bangalore who have been under so much of assault not just by men who have come and attacked helpless women, but also by the rest of society which seems to have taken on the roles of moral guardians and telling women what to wear, what time to go out, what to do, what not to do.
We don’t need anyone’s permission, we should not be seeking anyone’s permission. We are entitled to our spaces. This is not a protest, but an affirmation of our rights to enjoy public space", said a spokesperson of the SHE Collective Hub.