Reclaiming public spaces at a personal cost
For the average female commuter, public places in the city are often areas of isolation, anxiety, constant vigilance and possible violence. Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, recently announced plans of revamping the streets in the city, introducing dedicated paths for cyclists.Updated: Oct 27, 2019, 12:12 IST
It is about 10 pm on a smoggy night in New Delhi’s east Delhi district. I am approaching a flyover going towards Noida. The streets on a Sunday night are almost deserted, barring a few men walking along the footpath. The women presumably are in their homes.
I am peddling back on my bicycle from my workplace in Central Delhi’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg. I don’t let gender and social inhibitions come in the way, and exercise my right to be on the road at night on my cycle.
I ride past the last flyover towards Noida’s border, where the Gautam Buddha statue stands, a landmark from the time for former chief minister, Mayawati. This is when I notice that two men on a bike have been following me for about a kilometre or so.
The usual stalking suspects, I think nonchalantly. My mind takes me back to the time I was once flashed by a man while cycling, again alone at night. Most women in urban areas have experienced this ugly phenomenon. The bike comes closer. I wonder why they have not made the usual lewd remarks and sped off. They come next to my cycle and do something I don’t expect — and try to snatch my phone, catching me completely offguard.
I suddenly feel the fear and anger that so many women do. I am a strong independent woman who should be able to go wherever she wants to, and do whatever she choses to.
Then comes the toughest part. The tedious task of calling the local police and convincing them to take me seriously. “Aap iss samay cycle kar rahi thi, madam” (you were cycling at this hour from Delhi, madam), the first constable to arrive on the spot 10 minutes after my call asks. I would have to hear this question many times more. This would be followed by suggestions that I had been very stupid. Would I have been considered smarter if the incident had happened in the daytime? Would that have been more acceptable?
Unfortunately, for most women, the ordeal doesn’t end there. When I finally make it home after the harrowing ordeal, I have to face endless questions from my mother. “Where are you coming from? I hope you were not cycling back at this time?” I evade her, for truth will cost me liberty.
For the average female commuter, public places in the city are often areas of isolation, anxiety, constant vigilance and possible violence. Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, recently announced plans of revamping the streets in the city, introducing dedicated paths for cyclists. The Hindustan Times ran an extensive series on the state of infrastructure of the city’s roads for both pedestrians and cyclists.
But most tracks are either in a dilapidated condition or have been encroached upon. They lack adequate lighting too. It must also be looked at from a security point of view. An average of two speed cameras for checking challans, and not a single CCTV, for surveillance of the streets shows us where the priorities lie.
For women, as with many things, it goes a step beyond that. A fellow rider, who stopped on the way, told me that I must join a group of women cyclists who ride in groups regularly in order to remain safe.
“There have been many feminist campaigns for reclaiming public spaces for women. Have they led to any change in law and order mechanisms or in changing mindsets. Have they led to any change in law and order mechanisms or in changing mindsets? I may not have an unbiased answer for that. But I do plan on going cycling at night soon. Perhaps with some artillery.”