OPINION
RIGHT TO LOITER, BEKHAUF
Come out for a stroll, tonight. Bekhauf. Let's loiter, and test 70 years of azadi.
- Kamjaat Singh
Come out for a stroll, tonight. Bekhauf. Let's loiter, and test 70 years of azadi.



CHANDIGARH, AUGUST 11: On August 11, Friday, less than 100 hours before India marks 70 years of its Independence from a regime in which we were not free, women plan to spill out on the roads, asking for freedom. No, irony did not die a thousand deaths; in fact, the Bekhauf Azadi March is the continuation of a struggle that started much before any Quit India movement, and which will continue long after Narendra Modi climbs atop the ramparts of Red Fort this Tuesday.

Sadken bhi hamari, Galiyan bhi hamari, Raat bhi hamari, aur Raat ke chand sitare bhi hamare.
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Any Bekhauf Azadi March will be aiming for less than what it can achieve if it does not stress women's right to loiter - without having to explain, without really even having a purpose. 

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The poetic words need a thousand enunciations, millions in fact. Freedom means different things to different women. To a young girl, it may mean a chance to study further. To another, it may mean having the choice to get admission to a different college and live in a hostel. To yet another, it may mean a chance to opt for a late evening job. For a young woman, it may mean the right not to marry and be on her own. To her neighbour, it may mean not having to explain why she plans to divorce her husband. To a call centre employee, it may mean the right to ride her own Scooty on her way back, and be sure of her safety. To some, it may mean not being excluded from key financial decisions just because she is a 'mere housewife.'
 
Thanks to Varnika Kundu's gutsy fight, and her decision to take things to a logical end, many women and men will be out on the road after sunset. Just the simple act of being out during the dark hours has become an act of subversion. Seventy years later, our tryst with destiny needs to start from reclaiming our streets. 

This is our women's right to loiter. 

In any democracy, a key test is if one can loiter around without purpose. In most parts of our villages, towns and cities, men can. Women need to have a purpose. Their access to public places is conditional. If you are out late at night, you better be going home, or to a chemist shop, or to see someone at the hospital, or you missed a bus, or you have been beaten by your husband and turned out of your home. There has to be a cogent explanation - or you are declaring that you are available. For male gaze, if you are lucky; for stalking, if you are not; or for rape, if you are really, really godforsaken.
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You don't always need to march for a revolution. Sometimes you only need to be riding a bus, and refusing to give up a seat. Sometimes, you just need to take a stroll.
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Any Bekhauf Azadi March will be aiming for less than what it can achieve if it does not stress women's right to loiter - without having to explain, without really even having a purpose. As a woman, my purpose might be very simple: to loiter. You assured me I can, when you told me 70 years back that we are a free country now. It is time to test our freedoms.

If in a city, a woman cannot be out there in the street at night, it is not a city in a free country. If asked what is she doing there, answers, 'Just having some fun', and has a lesser chance of being safe, it is not a city that guarantees freedom for all.

In their remarkable book, "Why Loiter?”, in which researchers Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade dwell upon the risks that women face even in Mumbai, they pose some extremely pertinent questions: "Who’s having fun? Can girls really have fun? Do Muslim girls have less fun? Do rich girls have more fun? How do slum girls have fun?"
 
Also, one that might threaten the weak hearted, but must be asked if the Bekhauf Azadi March has to mean anything: "Can girls buy fun?” 
 
By deciding to walk on the streets of Chandigarh, and hopefully other towns and cities, the women and men are stressing the feminism of inclusion. Include the women in that crowd that makes up 'people'.

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver James F. Blake was just doing his routine job when he asked the black woman to move towards the rear of the vehicle. Rosa Parks was just going home. And she was tired of giving in. That day, she refused to give in. So something else had to give in. A bus ride triggered a revolution.

You don't always need to march for a revolution. Sometimes you only need to be riding a bus, and refusing to give up a seat. Sometimes, you just need to take a stroll. 

Just be out there. After sunset. 

Your reason? There's a road outside, and you feel like having a walk. Besides, on the way, you can test 70 years of azadi. Bekhauf.
 
 

*(Kamjaat Singh is an academic activist who also dabbles in journalism and writes under this pseudonym. The author, whose interests encompass politics, media, communication, academics, law, cinema etc., will be writing regularly for Punjab Today, and can be reached at kamjaatsingh@gmail.com.)

 

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Comment by: Rupinder Kaur

What a wonderful campaign and write up? My salute to this writer, who so ever it may be? I believe fight against dalit atrocities should be fought by non dalits to make it more affective, to touch the nervs of non-dalit community. similarly equality for women should be demanded by men along with women, it will have larger and deeper impact. hats off to this brilliant idea of bekhauf azadi.

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