10 reasons why I want women to reclaim the streets
Vignettes from my own life that best describe how we deny women their right to be outdoors.
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1. Once a friend and I were laughing out loud in a DTC bus. We were standing in the aisle sharing some joke. We were still in college and were on our way back home. One middle-aged woman who was sitting in a seat close by, signalled us to come near and whispered in our ears, “Beta, yahaan mat hanso, ghar jaakar hansna.” (Don’t laugh here, laugh once you reach home).
2. While having chai at a roadside tea stall next to Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, an old woman asked me, “Gharmein gas khatam ho gayi hai kya?” (Is the cooking gas over at home?)
3. An aunt in Lucknow was worried that her daughter, my teenaged cousin, was putting on weight. She asked, “What to do?”I answered, “Send her for a walk.” She replied, “Ab akeli ladki ko kya bheje?" (How can I send a girl alone?). I replied, “So, why don’t the two of you go together?” She answered, “How can two ladies go alone?”
4. In 2012, we were buying stall tickets for Dabangg 2 in Sapna cinema, a single-screen hall in Delhi till last year. For those who don’t know, the stall is the section behind the first class that falls next to the giant single screen on the ground floor; a balcony, on the other hand, is the section on the upper floor, with a better view. The ticket seller flatly refused us and suggested we buy "balcony" tickets instead, which was almost double the price. He said, “No stall tickets for women today because it is not safe. The stall and first class section has too many men because it is houseful.”
5. My mother, a huge Shah Rukh Khan fan, wanted to watch Yes Boss in a theatre, in the late '90s in Lucknow alone during daytime. She was refused a ticket. My father, who had no interest in films except some Sooraj Barjatya films, had to buy a single ticket on her behalf the next day, drop her at the cinema and assure the hall manager that she is watching the film alone and has her family’s approval for doing so.Photo courtesy Anshika Verma.
6. While staying over at an acquaintance’s home in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh, I was only allowed to step out of the house, not even till the veranda of the house, 20 hours after my arrival, to leave for another village. The men accompanying me, on the other hand, could roam around and check out the village, see and experience freely.
7. Once, while driving on a highway to a small town, a child in public transport ahead of me, pointed out, “Mummy, dekho ladki gaadi chala rahi hai.” (Mummy, look a girl is driving a car.)
8. Few months back, the public toilet in Delhi’s posh Khan Market was shut at 9.30pm. When I asked the guard why, he replied, “As a rule, the women’s toilet shuts at 8 pm.The men’s toilet is open all night.”
9. The roadside paranthawala next to the Moolchand flyover in Delhi offers an affordable and delicious fare. When I asked for a plate, the dhaba owner said, “Madam, let me pack your order. It will not be okay for you to sit and eat here.” When I insisted, he said, “Madam, please try and understand. If something happens, the police will shut my shop.”
10. When my mother sometimes returns home late at night, the neighbour often remarks, “She can because she has no family restrictions. She is a widow.”
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