Women are all too familiar with a chill that goes down the spine each time they find themselves in a deserted place in India after dark. That anxiety is soon replaced by anger when they witness men marching down those very streets and dimly-lit lanes with a kind of self-assurance that they have, unfortunately, never experienced.
Indian society is misogynistic and highly unsafe for women – a fact that is well known. What is new here, however, is the fact that the women of this country are increasingly refusing to let that anxiety hold them back and are now fighting to reclaim their right to public spaces.
They have turned defiant and it’s high that time they did. What began as a social media campaign called ‘I Will Go Out’ a few weeks ago to encourage women and members from other marginalised communities across the country to march together just as the sun set to not just fight for their claim over the night, but also to battle that inner voice that has at least dozens of times stopped them from leaving their house after dark for the fear of, ‘what if,’ has now turned into a nationwide movement.
One could say that the spark for the campaign began after reports of scores of women across Bengaluru being assaulted on New Years’ Eve came to light and that the flame was lit when they were met with predictable responses of victim blaming.
The ‘I Will Go Out’ initiative grew from the need for women to assert their right to access public spaces and resulted in women across several cities and towns including Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Nagpur and Goa joining together on Saturday evening in a peaceful protest.
Kashmir and Chennai simultaneously held online campaigns.
Not only did the collective of women activists behind the campaign want to question the traditional notions of public spaces, but they also sought to protest the exclusion of a range of marginalised communities.
The initiative also sought inclusive and safe infrastructures across the country to make each woman’s access to public spaces easier and demanded that immediate action be taken against perpetrators of sexual violence.
Not only did the initiative bring hundreds of women to the streets, according to a Times of India report, several members of the LGBT community also participated in the march. ” I empathise with women because the issues faced by our community are no different,” a 43-year-old design consultant Dhaval Shah told the Times of India.
The common thread that bound each one present was their experience of sexual harassment on the streets.
“Outrage had been building up since the Nirbhaya rape case,” Varsha Bhargavi, an activist and the coordinator of the Hyderabad chapter of the initiative told the New Indian Express. “The mass molestation [in Bengaluru] was the tipping point, that turned the angst into a movement.”