Have you ever seen women or a group of women on a “nukkad” (corner of a street) or beside any pan shop near your house or ever noticed any women loitering around without any purpose or agenda?
The project of this book was started in the year 1997 by Shilpa Phadke with further collaboration with Sameera khan, a Mumbai based journalist and a writer, and Shilpa Ranade who is an architect, with the main aim of bringing light on the social issues of women concerning the usage of public spaces in Mumbai. The whole book is majorly divided into 4 parts that are city limits, everyday spaces, in search of pleasure and imagining utopias.
The first part “City Limits” explains the choice of Mumbai city from all over India which is said to be the safest and most liberal metropolitan city for women. The “Bombay girl” is quoted as carefree and bold, but there are always two sides of a coin and thus the Bombay girl has it. Every woman needs to protect herself from any danger or needs to be always ready and alert, even the women in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local trains have pepper spray and all kinds of gadgets for any situation.
“Mumbai” is majorly known for its posh lifestyle, pubs, and happening nightlife but not everyone enjoys that kind of freedom. The girls in Mumbai come from different categories of classes that have their definitions of “good girls” and “bad girls” and if any girl falls in the category of a bad girl she is discarded from the safety and assurance given by the community.
“Log kya kahenge” (what would people say) is just a common phrase every girl has once heard in her life from her parents or guardians. Every woman of any age, caste, colour gets a policing watch every time she is out of her private space, her behaviour, walk, clothes, and even to whom she talks is being monitored by the community which would eventually have authority to give her a tag of respectable women or not.
The second part “Everyday Spaces” gives the designers of public spaces an insight into how the issues of women’s hygiene and their comfort can be taken into consideration while planning. The public spaces in Mumbai seem to contract due to its less availability of open land and interest of the real estate to build on those public spaces, this is because of the poor designing of the cities in the earlier stages. Less amount of public spaces with more male dominance makes it difficult for women to even access those public areas.
The book gives some solid evidence with the example of how the male dominance and the design of the public space gives a sense of fear and due to this whole scenario women tend to avoid using those spaces which are meant to be used by every citizen. Even if space gives a comfort zone to women but the lack of basic infrastructure makes the whole scene back to square one.
The third part “In search of Pleasure” describes various categories of women from young, old, rich, poor, Muslims, working women to sex workers and lesbians and how they have their part of “fun” in public spaces after giving an image of respectable women character. Women have restrictions of movement but if that woman is a “bad woman”; as called by the community, then she has more restrictions of using that space because people feel uncomfortable from being present in that space with them.
A woman feels safe in familiar surroundings but if any action of harassment is faced by her she manipulates it or hides it because she fears getting into that “bad girl” category even if the fault wasn’t her.
The last part “Imagining Utopia” gives a gist about why loitering is necessary for women and by loitering around, it can make the public or semi-public areas more women-friendly. Everyone needs to let them be feminist or not, as a citizen, women have the right to use public spaces and have a right of not giving answers for the same. A utopian world where everything is perfect and not action is gender-biased.
In today’s world, we need to make public spaces that can have every kind of person in a certain proportion of male, female, kids, old aged, disabled, and not just one gender dominated. And as truly stated in the book, we cannot suddenly reduce the rate of harassment in public spaces but we need to stop asking the victims of being there, at what time, in which kind of clothes and with whom because we have freedom of taking the risk for some amount of enjoyment and if not, then the city doesn’t deserve the bold and liberal women.
“Imagine our streets full of women, talking, strolling, laughing and gesticulating.
Imagine parks and beaches dotted with young women sitting alone.
Imagine street corners taken over by old women reflecting on the state of the world.
Imagine maidans occupied by the women workers planning their next strike for a
raise in minimum wages ….
If one can imagine all of this,
One can imagine a radically altered city!”
– Why Loiter?
Phadke Shilpa, Khan Sameera, Ranade Shilpa.(2011). Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets. Gurgao: Penguin Books.