[Editor’s Note--The second half of 2014 had us joining hands with Shreena Thakore, co-founder of No Country for Women, to engage in a joint ventilation of grievances plaguing the country, with a focus on women’s issues. With her columns in our pocket of the virtual universe, she shed light on the ‘myth of the impoverished rapist’, and along with a curation of goosebump-inducing, crowdsourced stories from women across the country via ‘Break the Silence’, she breached the much-experienced but little-discussed matter of ‘Gendered Negotiation of Space in India’. This grassroots-level issue, that has at one point or another, affected each of us, is what has been the driving force behind our digital photo campaign in tandem with NCFW.
We reached out to photographers, all of whom have witnessed the manifestation of this issue in their parts of the world, to lend us some visual insight; you know what they say about the worth of a picture. With the publishing of ‘12 Indian Photographers Capture How Differently Men & Women Interact With Public Spaces In Our Country’, we called out to all of our followers and readers to spread awareness, and contribute their own experience with the issue to transform this interaction into a veritable dialogue. We are happy to say the results did not disappoint.]
After 12 Indian photographers, we decided to kick off the new year with the privilege of having our own readers take us through myriad perspectives elaborating on a woman’s right to be present in a public space - and sometimes, as it feels, to be anywhere she is not ‘supposed to be’. After sifting through the considerable response we received to our campaign in collaboration with No Country for Women, we shortlisted some photographs and narratives from our readers that interpreted what ‘Gendered Spaces’ meant to each contributor, in a eloquent and well-formulated manner.
Scroll on to see the range of issues the submissions explored, as related to us by:
I. Kevin Ilango
“Now, my two cents on “Gendered Spaces” can’t possibly add anything more than what academics and writers (and pretty much everyone else) haven’t already touched upon. Mapping this explosive third wave of feminism makes everyone trace recourse to the December 16th incident. But the concerns have led to a wider and even more explosive debate, that of rape culture. Now I think it’s hard to actually have this debate, because you can start with an individual, or in this case, a victim, and check their associations, the situational factors, and try and rationalize, and logically validate how something came to happen. But then every step of the way you realize that your own constructions have almost always blind-sided you from what the problem, almost proverbially, ‘REALLY’ is. That is that culture is as much a human product as humans are cultural products.
Gendered spaces seems like such a fallible phrase, how can an inanimate amount of area have a culture, and influence behaviour? Were famous sayings and studies such as those of historians like A.J.P. Taylor and psychologists like Zimbardo accurate? That people both have tendencies towards abusive behaviour, and that a physical space/complex can bring it about? I guess we’re also past the stage where we can shudder to think that such things are possible, because digital media allows you to consume, daily, that very information. Tackling “gendered spaces” on open forums is the academic method of trying to recalibrate the human condition, but to what end? I’m not saying academics can’t conclude something worthwhile, but that it rarely does solve the actual problem.
Writers such as Rajinder Singh Bedi, in his “Lajwanti”, very much tried to grasp what it’s like to compartmentalize another human being, but without today’s jargon, and sadly, with a character who is hopelessly shackled to his own internal patriarchal construction. The act of “gendering” spaces is perpetrated to reinforce an agenda of segregation and exclusion, but in a modern industrial society, these sacred regulations pretty much fall flat because of their complete impracticality. Yet, non-males bear the burden of trying to fix this mindset by having to worm their way into public spaces and delicately pushing boundaries, without any uniform pacing. This likely comes as a shock to all males, who, regardless of their self-image, may have always been told to watch out for aberrations in society like this.
The steaming result of aspiring towards the traditional ideal in the modern world is rape culture. Rape culture is how society, all society, unofficially deals with the aberration of mixed-gender mobility in the same spaces. Which is sad, because it’s evident that we can deal, but also that we literally can’t deal.
Having a third-culture background and then returning to India for my graduation, it kind of allowed me to be the outsider looking into his own heritage. Incidentally, gender has always been a very important subject for me because though gender’s equivalence to sex fades away, there is a reactionary pressure to force all identity to gravitate towards traditional roles anyway.”
The Girl On a Wire
“The “Girl on a Wire” was one such example. I saw her in Khar Road while heading for an interview. Her skill in street performance enables her to be a valuable family member, but the performance requires her to make herself subservient to her family’s needs, and the audience’s expectations. It may be her strong-suit and she may be entirely willing, and yes she is a child, but her expression in the public space is monetized (and demanded as such).”
God is Work
“’God is work’ is kind of what I was hinting at that with Bedi’s “Lajwanti”. The whole idea of claiming that a national society is actually sensitive to women because of the number of female deities we worship is obviously flawed, but it’s also dangerous. As a society that aims to recast itself as modern and progressive and yet still capable of holding onto tradition, we end up doing exactly what women hope we don’t, which is to put them into compartments rather than condone the self-expression that a dominant class may enjoy.”
“The ‘Opposite Hands’ are from a ritual my parents held for a dead member of my father’s staff who died in a bike accident earlier this year. The ritual was held with a pandit present to conduct it because our family felt his spirit had not yet passed on. We all had to participate and wear certain paraphernalia. Interestingly, my mom, being a woman, had to wear her bracelet on the opposite hand, as though even in bidding farewell to a family friend’s spirit, she must identify as a female.”
Kevin Ilango attended Delhi University where he pursued a Bachelor’s in History Honours. He is presently a filmmaking student.
II. Maya Carlson
“I am currently interning with an organization working on menstrual hygiene in India and have spent much of the past four months visiting women and girls all over India - from the Dahod region of Gujarat, to Dharavi in Mumbai. The gendered spaces of public transport in major cities (and airports!), along with the overall assumptions that women should cook, clean and spend the majority of their time in the private space while men spend hours of leisure drinking chai, smoking beedies,or just watching the world go by is astounding.
As a white woman who has lived in India for many years, the number of times I have been the only female in a public place is always on my radar. In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, the contrast is not nearly as stark as in rural areas, but the ratio is always skewed no matter where I am.”
Maya Carlson has been working in India for an organization building mini-factories around rural India that employs women to manufacture compostable sanitary pads, travelling all over the country from cities to completely isolated rural villages where the gendered nature of space is omni-present, though manifested in different ways. “Cities are constantly over-pouring with hoards of men, often idly occupying the public while women rush around from one place to the next alone or in very small groups. In rural areas men come and go as they please while women and girls often remain indoors, shrouded in their saris. I was often the only woman traveling in buses or trains full of men. The distantiation is palpable,” she says.
III. Mayank Susngi
“On a ferry to Majuli, Asaam the world’s largest riverine island, the ferries have women almost automatically heading to the lower seated section of the ferry while the men occupy the rest of the spaces.”
“A common scene at Chandni Chowk in old Delhi.”
“Even children these days are weary of men looking at them with a pointed gaze.”
“Women from the Khasi and Garo tribes in Meghalaya have a role-reversal of sorts. Being one of the few surviving matrilineal societies in the world, men are often the second gender. “
“In Kasmir, behind the veil of tradition lies also a general distancing from males due to predominantly conservative attitudes. Their participation in the public domain is equally veiled.”
IV. Raghuraman Rangarajan
“What I see in this picture are 5 men having fun cracking jokes while an elderly woman works in the background.”
“Here is just a sad girl selling heart shaped balloons during Ramzan, 2014.”
“Some men playing cards on the train (do we see women doing this often?)“
Raghuraman Rangarajan is a South Indian boy who grew up in Bombay before going to study in Rourkela and then to work in a small village around Raipur. He is now studying in Sweden. His years away from home challenged his indifference and opened his eyes. “India is filled with overwhelmingly beautiful things on the streets, and since there is so much poverty and pain, I found it much easier to be indifferent and be busy in my life. Street photography, for me, was a great way to break out of that shell of indifference and start noticing things around me. Small, beautiful and sometimes painful things. ‘Cause these are stories waiting to be heard,” he says.
V. Aditi Parekh
“We’re not allowed to pee in public. And we would never allow ourselves to. There’s a gendered space, a discriminatory constraint
— physical as well as mental.”
Aditi Parekh is a social science student trying to make sense of her education by walking around India, but always before 9pm, and always with a finger on the Panic Button app.