The right to a city. Yes, it is my right | columns | Hindustan Times
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The right to a city. Yes, it is my right

columns Updated: Sep 18, 2013 15:32 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The Mumbai police are putting what they euphemistically call “finishing touches” to the charge-sheet in the Shakti Mills gang-rape case of a photojournalist on August 22.


If all goes to plan, the charge-sheet will be filed tomorrow, three days short of a month from the horrific incident that outraged Mumbai and brought the public compass back to issue of women’s safety. Two questions were repeatedly raised in the immediate aftermath of the gang-rape: has Mumbai gone the Delhi way and why she ventured to a spot she should never have.

The enduring legacy of Mumbai has not tur ned the Delhi way - yet. Studies show that the city recorded 3.3 rapes per lakh of women while the figure was nearly 6.3 for the national capital. The comparison with Delhi is a moot one for Mumbai has always had a composite work culture with a fair share of working women and girls out on its streets and in public view at all hours of the day and night.

What should occupy our energy is that the city is not as safe as it used to be, say even 10 years ago.

It has to do with multiple factors such as physical infrastructure, social and class biases and cultural conditioning.

The second question was unwarranted but the very fact that it was discussed pointed to a deeply disturbing trend. The question about the motive or wisdom of the photojournalist in being at such a desolate place should not have been framed at all; instead, it quickly segued into questioning the sagacity of the editor who sent her on the assignment to photograph abandoned spots, and in general, to the presence of women where they ought not to be.

Those who framed it thus were suggesting that women and girls in this city were secure so long as they stayed within certain geographical and spatial boundaries.
Where women ought not to be – it’s an offensive and unjust phrase.

The very idea is loaded and anti-women. It tells us that there are places and zones in the city that are not ours by right, places that we should avoid if we are concerned for our safety, places that are frequented by louts and vandals who somehow seem to remain just below the police radar but never get caught, places that become unsafe only and only because our police and criminal justice system have ceded them to the dark lords of our society. Ergo: we women have no right to be there.

Focusing on women’s safety and fashioning the battle to reclaim Mumbai – a strong element of HT’s current focus – has an implicit assertion. It’s a simple but significant one. It says I have a right to my city. The right to be where I want to be, the right to travel the way I want, the right to live, work and play in the manner that I choose to, with knowledge that I will be safe as long as I am on the right side of the law.

This right to the city must be purposefully declared and discussed so that the idea finds common support among policy-makers and citizens, stated a document of the Women in Cities International three years ago.

The right to the city is inextricably linked to the safety of women and girls in their city, the creation of safe and sustainable communities, and elimination of violence and insecurity that prevents women and girls f rom using public spaces and transport freely, the document detailed.

The Toronto -based organisation has been working in cities across the world, with UN-HABITAT, to ensure that violence against women is comprehensively addressed at all levels of society. “It is up to governments, at all levels, to create cultural and legal frameworks that protect women and girls,” declared the document, but it begins with the concept of “the right to the city”. It’s a non-negotiable one.

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