Newletter Sep-Dec 2010

At the “3rd International Conference on Women’s Safety: Building Inclusive Cities” held in Delhi from November 22-24, 2011, Saheli was invited to speak about Artistic/Creative Expressions of Women’s Safety in the city. Again, our presentation was a combination of talk and performance, focussing on how taking issues into a public domain is not just about creation of awareness but also simultaneously a claiming of the public and private spaces of the city. After all, when thousands of women go in a religious procession or attend a wedding in public it doesn’t quite make the news, but when we take over the streets with empty vessels (as in the anti-price rise movement) or placards, slogans, plays and songs (as in so many of our other struggles) we transform the streets into a site of our struggle as a ‘movement’. In doing so, we assert control of public space wherein inequalities determined by class, caste, race and gender are manifested, and reinforced by spatial arrangements… and hence the negotiation and appropriation of that space is fundamentally a political act.

In a room charged with creative energy, we shared a range of creative strategies – from interactive forms like plays and songs, leafletting and public speeches etc., to actions like the ‘strong and silent’ protests of our Dilli Chuppi Todo (Speak Out, Delhi) campaign that were ‘non-interventionist/non interactive’ in nature even as we took over public spaces like the marketplace and the street sides, pedestrian pathways and flyovers! Our songs and plays, including the concept of having an ‘absent but omnipresent’ aggressor in our play on sexual harassment, Mahaul Badalna Hai (discussed earlier) triggered many vibrant discussions on creative strategies on our struggles to make the city safer for women.

Ironically, even as hundreds of activists at the Jagori conference were engaged in various aspects of the building inclusive cities, New Delhi was again witness to many horrid cases of gangrape and sexual assaults. On 23rd November, 2010, a 30-year-old woman from Mizoram was coming back from her office and was picked up by four drunken men near Dhaula Kuan. She was gang-raped for over 40 minutes in a moving vehicle. Immediately, women’s groups, child rights groups, sexual rights groups, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights groups and other progressive groups, academicians and concerned individuals, issued a public statement condemning the recent incidents of sexual assault on women especially from North East India pointing also to the failure of the Delhi government to ensure safety of women.

Yet in the days that followed, while the Delhi Police made a media circus of the first arrests, the Delhi government was ominously silent. To build pressure on the administration and compel it to take action, a delegation of women’s groups and groups from the North-East met the Chief Minister, Ms Sheila Dikshit. This finally initiated a series of meetings and discussions on steps needed to address the increasing insecurity of women in the city, the failure of law agencies to address the issue, etc. Since then a series of meetings with the Chief Minister, Delhi Commission for Women, Dept for Women and Child Development, the Police Commissioner, Joint Commissioner, Crime against Women’s Cell, and soon have been held and some action seems to be in the offing. However, there remains much cause for concern because unless we keep up the pressure, this Dhaula Kuan case will again lapse from public memory and action just like the other infamous case of 2005. And yet again the guilty will go free.