In the wake of the Delhi gangrape, we have seen a spirited and complex discussion on policing and the provision of justice. This conversation might make it look like these concerns have little to do with your job but, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact your work is integral to making changes that may prevent more such criminal assaults in the future.
In our book Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets, Sameera Khan, Shilpa Ranade and I argued women had the right to choose to take risks in public space without being censured for it. At the same time, while the risk of being in public space is in a broad sense chosen, the risks associated with the lack of infrastructure like good roads, street lighting and adequate public transport are not a matter of individual choice and imposed through decisions made by city planners. When we demanded women’s right to take risks in public, it was chosen risks we referred to (for instance the choice to walk on Marine Drive at midnight) not those risks imposed by the lack of infrastructural facilities (for instance the lack of public transport to take one home at midnight). It is the responsibility of city municipal corporations to provide citizens with every infrastructural facility possible to promote a democratic access to public space.
This democratic access I would argue involves inviting more people into public space. People are our best resource – the more people we have on the streets and in our buses and in our parks the safer they are.
In the spirit of promoting access here’s a preliminary list of things you can do to transform the city of Mumbai.
Public transport: Buses and Trains
I told someone today that the Delhi sexual assault could not have happened in a BEST bus because nobody can take a BEST bus out for a joyride – there are too many checks and controls. And no private bus in Mumbai can pretend to be anything. This is a good beginning but its not enough. The existing facilities on the buses and trans are stretched to breaking point.
What we need now is seriously good quality public transport – the kind that makes people leave their cars at home because the trains and buses are a BETTER, more efficacious way to commute. This will need money. Some of this money is being spent on the metro and monorail but the existing suburban railway network and the bus routes also need some overhauling.
- For starters, can we have both the BEST buses and the suburban railway trains run 24 hours. This will make all the difference.
- At night let buses stop in between stops for women to get off so they don’t have to walk long distances.
- Other simple things that can transform access: Lights at the bus-stops. Seats at the bus-stops. Lots of lights at the railway stations.
To begin with this city has a terrible ratio of open space to population. We need much more open space and the work on the new development plans is a good place to lobby for this change. Our research on parks suggested that those parks which are the most accessible are the safest, like the Shivaji Park for instance. For here are some suggestions:
- Take out all the fences. Have a low katta wall wide enough for people to sit on. Widen the footpaths even if this means eating a little into the gardens. Create a sense that people can hang-out.
- Encourage hawkers and have spaces for them at twenty feet intervals so the periphery is covered – there you have your eyes on the street and in the park. Hawkers both provide additional lighting in the evening and bring more people out on to the streets.
- Encourage lovers in the park. You can make some basic rules if you like (for instance, clothes to be kept on at all times). Lovers are not interested in assaulting anyone but their presence is a deterrent to others. Do not get the police to police them this is a BAD idea.
- Put some benches in the parks and advertise them as picnic spaces. Hire some cleaning crew and put in big bins and ask people to use them. Adding desirable people is a better strategy than trying to eliminate those you think undesirable.
We need them. You provide them. Keep them clean. Keep them well lit. Find the space for them. No more than 500 metres (yes that’s right – one every half kilometer). Open 24 hours. You got it. This will tell the world our world class cities expect women to be out there everyday, anywhere, anytime.
Shops, Restaurants and even Bars
Restaurants, shops and bars open late into the night populate the city and make it alive and therefore safer for everyone. Our research shows that places with people are places that women like. Then you will have more women and the space will not just be safer but you will be able to boast of your world class city where women walk freely at any time of the day or night.
- We don’t need curfews. Let them stay open as long as they like. The more people out on the streets at night the safer the streets. No really.
- Here you actually don’t have to do anything. Just change the rules. It’s easy and it will pay rich dividends. If you are worried about drunk driving, have the police out with breathalyzers. This worked before. It will work now.
These are simple things. They are only the beginning and I hope more suggestions will be made in the comments section.
You may not care about women’s access to public space for fun. You may even be strictly anti-women’s-fun. You may not even care that women are sexually assaulted. But surely you care about the reputation of your aspirational world class city. Surely you care about international financial investment. Do these little things – I promise you will come out of it smelling likes roses. Other cities will imitate your actions. Journalists will sing your praises. Scholars of cities will write about your successful experiments.
You don’t need to change your ideology, just change our infrastructure.
Yours hopefully and on behalf of many women in this city,