“Acche ghar ki ladkiyan ho, ye sab kyun kar rahe ho? (You're girls from good homes, why are you doing all this?)” is something that a group of women from Mumbai hear often when they set out to reclaim their right to the city's public spaces. As part of the movement, 'Why Loiter', these women over the past two years have faced many such instances, yet they continue to loiter and break norms to help other women regain their independence in public places.
Neha Singh who pioneered the movement, was inspired by the book, Why Loiter by Shilpa Phadke. Phadke addresses how women across various classes and communities experience public spaces differently. Neha Singh and her 'comrades' loiter every Sunday in various public spaces of Mumbai during the night. Realising that more often women step out their homes to either get to work or run errands, the movement's explicit focus is on letting women truly experience what it means to simply loiter. Neha, in an interview with Firstpost said that just like how groups of men enjoy a cup of chai late in the night, women too should be able to grab that cup of tea, irrespective of the time, without judgement.
From cycling in the rains, singing at local trains, visiting chai stalls at midnight to sleeping in parks, these women have drawn hundreds of curious stares. ‘Why loiter’ completed two years on 29 May with an Antakshri session in the metro from Versova to Ghatkopar and back. Passengers from across the metro came together and sang songs.
"I felt so comfortable in my own skin, there was no one to restrict me, no one to judge me. It was quite liberating," said Manasi Rachh, an actor and filmmaker who joined the loitering session on Sunday. And it is this sense of "comfort" that filled the metro compartment — there was laughter and banter among strangers, both men and women.
An interesting takeaway from this session was about 'Lakshman Rekha' — how this mythical concept actually imposes itself in the everyday lives of women — don't touch this, don't go out at night, come back home early, don't wear this skirt, don't hang out with boys...don't. The list is endless and tiresome. "In cities like Mumbai, as long as you remain in your domain, no one will say anything. But, when you break the domain, then there is a conflict," added Singh.
The camaraderie that I witnessed on that long metro ride was unequivocally liberating; roaming around during the day or the night shouldn't be a luxury reserved for boys and men. 'Why Loiter' is an excellent exercise that brings a lot more women out on the streets, normalising the visual of women in public places. Singh, recollected that on many occasions, they were stopped by cops who insisted that they should stop loitering because they were being followed by men. Apparently, it's easier to control women than to actually stop the boys/men.
The movement is not restricted only to women, in fact they encourage and expect men to be a part of the conversation. In one of their sessions, 'Walk like a woman', nearly 20 men who came dressed as women joined in. Clad in dresses, high waist skirts and "seedha pallu" sarees, men joined in and emphasised on "why men need feminism." Satchit Puranik, director of the Loitering play talked about how men were told all their lives to 'man up' and how it was equally difficult for them to deal with societal stereotypes and traditional gender roles.
While, ‘loitering’ is catching up in other cities and countries, it is nice to know that we are moving towards the days when women can step out in their shorts at midnight without fear and with confidence.
Updated Date: May 30, 2016 21:45 PM