Reclaiming The Night In New Delhi
When I arrived for my 8 month internship in New Delhi, I was struck by many things: the joyous, chaotic traffic, the delicious smells, the incessant noise, throngs of people everywhere. But the biggest shock came when I realised that all the things I took for granted living as a woman in Montreal: walking alone, at any time, anywhere, dressed however I wanted … all these things were no longer applicable. Of course, women occasionally get harassed, even raped in Canada. But no one ever questions the right of the victim; no one ever asks her what she was wearing at the time. No one asks her what she was doing out so late anyway. This was not the case in New Delhi.
While it is important to be respectful of different religions and traditions, discrimination and abuse of women cannot and should not be perpetrated in the name of culture. And so even after 7 months spent in India, I was outraged by the restriction placed on women’s movement in the city in the name of virtue, and the belief that one is necessarily “asking for it” should a woman decide to thread across this invisible line.
I had been toying with the idea of organizing a “Take Back the Night” walk in New Delhi, where women (and open-minded men!) would take the streets in the evening and reclaim their right to the city. In November, my supervisor and mentor, Shivani Bhardwaj gave me her blessing, permitting me to organize the event under the banner of her NGO, Sathi All for Partnerships.
The first thing I did was to let all of my personal and work contacts in Delhi know that we were organizing this event on the 10th of December, which was also International Human Rights day. I created a Facebook group for the announcement to go viral, and reach as many people in Delhi as possible. What really made a big difference, however, was approaching other NGOs also working in the field of women’s rights, suggesting we join forces. Once Jagori, Pravah, Commutiny the Youth Collective and others were on board, the event’s attendance increased exponentially.
Also instrumental in the success of the rally was securing financial help from funders such as Plan International. This allowed us to design and print posters as well as brochures that would serve both to attract attention to the event, but also, hopefully, as a sensitization campaign to raise awareness around the issue. The design was a joint effort of the partner NGOs involved, which meant that the end product would be relevant to all organizations. Everyone was also involved in the distribution of the campaign material. In my case, I decided to tour universities and schools across the city to put up posters, distribute brochures, and talk to students about the event.
An important part of the logistical concerns was also obtaining authorization from the district police bureau and traffic authorities, which was, to say the least, challenging. It wasn’t clear until the very last minute that the walk wouldn’t go unimpeded by forces present. What helped in this respect was that the event had been publicized a few days before, in many news sources such as the Times of India and the Hindustan Times. I had submitted press releases to newspapers and newscasts, which meant that the date and time for the event had already been made public. It would have been difficult, in this case, for opposing police officers to go back on their word.
The event was a big success, thanks to everyone involved, and the energy of youth groups, such as Youth Collective, Munzil and others who went out of their way to lend a voice to the movement. This included bringing their own musical equipment and writing songs for the occasion. It is my biggest wish that their efforts go towards more awareness for women’s right to a safe and inclusive city.
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