This writer must admit to a long-standing and very private fantasy: It involves a vending machine set up at the entrance of Brigade Road every weekend that can dispense safety pins, umbrellas, running shoes and a golf club to women. Items can be returned at the other end of the street.
We know inflicting bodily harm to make Brigade Road freer for women isn’t sanskaari. For contrast, Bangalore offers many small but fierce movements of crisis that flare up in the wake of each modesty-outraging incident, as we;ve seen this week. Indeed, the most memorable of the city's creative protests have always tried to transcend the frame of the immediate incident and try to focus on the big picture. How effective is this penchant for the gentle gesture, though?
Last Friday, we took a walk under Dairy Circle Flyover and around SG Palya - usually considered off-limits for women after dark -with Delhi-based NGO Hidden Pockets. Over the last couple of years, Hidden Pockets has been conducting regular walks in the capital aimed at dispelling fear of the “dodgy” city, while also debunking myths about where women should or shouldn’t go.
The most memorable of the city's creative protests have always tried to transcend the frame of the immediate incident and try to focus on the big picture.
Planned before the Brigade Road assault on New Year's Eve, the walk was designed to connect streets with people who don’t usually walk there. When we began at Christ College’s gates, surrounded by college students, the divide between locals and walkers became immediately evident. Parts of SG Paliya tend to scare off even the hardy Bangalore woman in spite of its swanky student hostels and laidback eateries.
For about 90 minutes, we walked down Bannerghatta Main Road, entering Kaveri Layout and ending up where we started. The neighbourhood didn’t feel particularly welcoming and wasn’t meant to. As Brinda Lakshmi of Hidden Pockets says, taking such walks is about confronting fear and reclaiming streets for everyone, irrespective of class or gender.
Pleat, Pleat Help Me
In 2013, four people organised a “non-protest” that led to one of the city’s most memorable feminist gestures. At “Skirt The Issue,” held in the aftermath of Delhi’s December ‘12 bus rape, dozens of men gathered at Cubbon Park wearing skirts to show solidarity and reinforce the fact that clothes have nothing to do with gender violence. This week, we asked organizer (and bpb contributor) Anisha Rachel Oommen about why she did it. “We knew that with amusement and curiosity, it would also generate widespread attention,” she said - and perhaps also sow “the idea of difference” in some minds.
Lawyer and meme star Gautam John attended that event wearing a full-length red skirt. When we asked him if he would do so again, he insists the gesture is as relevant as ever.
Candle From Strangers
Not everyone agrees, as evinced by the fact that a nationwide protest in response to the incident is called #IWillGoOut, which returns to the scene of New Year’s Eve’s crime. On Friday night, as we parted ways from our walking group, the hour (a bit past 10 pm) and the shadow of Srinivasa Theatre cast a palpably eerie spell. Quick checks on how women walkers were getting to their homes served as quiet reality checks.
On Friday night, as we parted ways from our walking group, the hour (a bit past 10 pm) and the shadow of Srinivasa Theatre cast a palpably eerie spell.
We walked away feeling unsettled, thinking not of SG Palya or “sketchy” Bangalore, but of the safe city, where a mid-morning run in wooded Cubbon Park is often a chance to meet the crème de la crème of Bangalore’s shadiest. A late evening shopping trip on Commercial Street could have you running out of the parking lot even before you get to your vehicle. And Brigade Road on New Year’s Eve, as anyone who’s dreamed of a safety-pin vending machine knows, is just an intensified version of Brigade Road late on any Friday night.
But this, perhaps, is exactly the point of the gentle gesture: the quiet walk, the linked hands, the flounces on the skirt. They offer not distraction, but a view of the world that grief and anger can obfuscate. They ask you to put your trust in strangers again. On days when running shoes and a golf club over the shoulder seem like better options, the optimism will (hopefully) be useful.
#IWillGoOut, Jan 11, 8 pm. Assemble at MG Road, Cauvery Emporium junction. See the Facebook page here.
Peaceful Protest Against Mass Molestation, Jan 11, 5 pm, Brigade Road. See the Facebook page here.
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