Tales of fear and safety from June evenings…

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On 17th June, the Hidden Pockets Collective team organised a walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park and neighbouring areas – the walk event aptly called ‘Mehrauli and You’. Hidden-Pockets is a start-up run by feminists, who focus on issues of pleasure and safety for women in urban spaces, sexual and reproductive rights, and thinking about these in terms of maps as well.

So, that evening, starting from the rainy streets in front of Ojas Art Gallery, we traipsed through streets and footpaths and explored a mysterious yet charming part of our own Dilli.

It was raining, we were standing under the shed of what was probably a paan shop (I actually didn’t notice), and all I could think of was “where are we going with this?”. It usually takes a lot more than just a Facebook invite to get me out of my comfortable bed on any evening, but since it was raining I let it pass, because I happen to like the rain.

But rainy evenings in a part of the city I’ve barely visited in all the 19+ years I’ve been alive? This was definitely a first.

So we started our walk from in front of Ojas Art Gallery, near Qutub Minar. As if the idea of a bunch of women walking alone through Mehrauli wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough, the area was even more deserted because of the unexpected rains.

But the weather was good, we still had feet in our shoes, and so we walked on.

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We walked past the Qutub Complex, through some bumpy road I can barely remember the name of, and reached the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It was getting dimmer, and like the nervous personality I am, I kept a lookout for any sign of “danger”.

But the thing about danger is – where does it even manifest most? Indoors or outdoors? Where does “danger”, “fear” and “safety” figure in our imaginations?

According to Shilpa Phadke et al, our fear of the outdoors is constructed by narratives that ignore the fact that women are more likely to face sexual violation within their homes or around people they know, than outdoors. “Stranger Danger” is a common term we ma sexual violation within their homes or around people they know, than outdoors. “Stranger Danger” is a common term we may all have heard of, but in light of this fact, does it really make sense?

The team at Hidden Pockets discussed these issues of what makes us “feel” safe or unsafe, as opposed to what is actually statistically safe or unsafe. Our ideas of spaces, especially as women, are moulded by not just gender, but class and religion as well. Is Mehrauli an area I am less likely to enter alone because I am an upper caste, upper-middle class, Hindu woman, and have been conditioned into believing that any identity that isn’t my identity could pose a threat to me – especially in terms of sexual violence?

As we walked, we discovered the park at Mehrauli like I never had before – we chatted, we looked around, we read and discussed poetry. We took pleasure from just being, and discussed this pleasure too – what brings us all together, as young women, and what about this public spaces appeals to us? The (supposed) inaccessibility? The absence of peering and leering eyes (it was, after all, post 7 pm)? The company of others like us?

And I also realised, that walks are a great way for us all to explore the spaces that surround us. A teacher of mine told me once that the best way of knowing a city was to get lost in it. Some of the best books I’ve read have explored city and country spaces through the eyes of the people walking them, and some of the best novelists like Charles Dickens are also well-known for their habit of expressing their oneness with cities by walking through them. So as a young woman who’d lived in this wonderful city all her life, the idea of just walking through busy streets at night was exciting and refreshing.

With all these questions and ideas bubbling in my head, and more, we walked on, back where we started. We walked on roads with nothing but those yellow street lights to guide us. And we discussed the beauty of those lights, too. For me, those lights represented everything I’d been missing out on when I turned down dinner plans with friends because I couldn’t figure out if public transportation would be “safe” enough for me to travel at night. And then finally that evening, those lights came to represent my personal rebellion against narratives of fear, safety, and public spaces that have been generated for women for years and years.

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Photo Credit: Pallavi

But maybe my biggest victory moment through this walk was not the ‘Hidden-Pockets’ I explored, the wonderful sights I saw and the conversations I took part in or was witness to, it was the fact that walking back, skipping over alternate blocks on the path through Mehrauli Archaeological Park, looking at the people around us, I could finally bring myself to the thought that –

This here, this is my Dilli. There are men and women here, of all walks of life, and I am as much part of their city as they are part of mine. There are men here, in this park, I am walking past them, and I am unafraid. I am unafraid, not because I am brave, or because I am adventurous: but because I have nothing to be afraid of.

I can only hope now, to claim more spaces, go on more walks, and explore more of these lovely Hidden-Pockets with young feminists, in this city I call “Home”…

 

Article by: Shirin Choudhary
Photo Courtesy: Oindrila Duttagupta
Video Director: Oindrila Duttagupta
Video Editor : Pallavi.

The Mehrauli and You walk is happening on 29 July. Book tickets here. Hurry the seats are limited.

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