women's safety

Please spare us the safety lectures. Women should claim the Right to Risk in the city

Paternalism is not the answer. Women’s right to be in public space must be unchallenged.

Almost everyone seems preoccupied with the issue of violence against women. That in itself is not a bad thing, considering the steady stream of sexual assaults against women in India. This is counting not just the cases that get reported but also the ones that escape media attention, especially those involving assaults on marginalised women and the violence happening behind the closed doors of a home.

Unfortunately, as it happens, we have yet another round of victim bashing after the December 5 rape case – this one happening just days before the two-year anniversary of the horrific Delhi gang rape and murder that brought thousands of protesters on the street. Every time, soon after the details of the crime are reported and the accused is arrested, the inevitable questions begin.

“Sleep?” people ask shrilly. “You mean she fell asleep?” Presumably, these are people who have never slept on their way home after an exhausting day at work.

Producing safety

Close on the heels of the questions follow the safety instructions: how to behave in a train/bus/autorickshaw/taxi, how to act when a handyman is doing repairs at your home, and even how to open your door to another lower-class man, the istriwala. Here we have it, feminism presented to us as commonsense.

The irony is that if there is one thing women do, it is create safety for themselves. We do this without thinking. During our three years of research for our book Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets, women enumerated a variety of strategies used to create safety in a context where institutional structures often fail us: women hold on to their mobile phones, sometimes talk or pretend to talk all the way home, carry safety pins, knuckle-dusters, beg escorts, travel in groups. The survivor of the Uber taxi assault also did what she could to produce safety for herself. She used an app-based service that promised safety, which should have been tracked by global positioning system. That should really have been alright.

There is another thing we discovered in our research: safety for women is a false goal. It comes with all kinds of restrictions, conditions and moral policing. The right to risk is a far more realistic and liberatory goal.

Pleasure in the city

In order to understand risk, we need to redefine our understanding of violence in relation to public space – to see not sexual assault but the denial of access to public space as the worst outcome for women. The demand is that women’s right to be in public space be unquestioned whether we are assaulted or not.

Today, violence has become the only language in which one can engage with questions of gender in public space. Every time a woman steps out of her home, it is the spectre of violence that she must confront rather than anticipation of pleasure. The claim to seek pleasure in the city is a deeply political one that has the potential to seriously undermine the public-private boundaries that continue to circumscribe women’s access to and visibility in public space.

The right to risk is not abstract. From the perspective of the city, it must be mirrored in the provision of infrastructure. While the decision to take certain risks must be chosen, risks must not be thrust upon women by inadequate or poor planning. The right to pleasure, by default, must include the right against violence in the shape of infrastructure like transport, street lighting, public toilets, besides policies that enable more sensitive law enforcement recognising people’s fundamental right to access public space.

Fear of violence

By our suggestion that courting risk might be a viable strategy, we are by no means suggesting that women, or indeed any individual, should be forced to take risks. At the same time, this should not curtail the freedom of those who wish to court risk. At no point are we ignoring or even minimising the violence, both sexual and non-sexual, that might potentially take place in public. The fear of violence in public space is real. It contains the possibility of physical and psychological trauma.

Nor is it our intention to romanticise risk itself, for risk is a term that is already value-loaded in terms of good and bad, and desirable and undesirable women. Still, the presence of violence should not preclude the possibilities for women seeking pleasure in the city. The presence of well-lit streets should not mean that women found in dark corners should be deemed unrespectable or blamed if they are attacked.

Choosing to take risks in public space undermines a sexist structure where women’s virtue is prized over their desires or agency. Choosing risks foregrounds pleasure, making what is clearly a feminist claim to the city.

The authors are co-authors of Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets. This piece draws on the ideas of the book.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The qualities of a high-performance luxury sedan

A lesson in harnessing tremendous power to deliver high performance.

Gone are the days when the rich and successful would network during a round of golf, at least in the Silicon Valley. As reported by New York Times, ‘auto-racing has become a favourite hobby for the tech elites’. However, getting together on a race track would require a machine that provides control while testing extreme limits. Enter the Mercedes-AMG range of cars.

Mercedes-AMG’s rise from a racing outfit to a manufacturer of peak performance cars is dotted with innovations that have pushed the boundaries of engineering. While the AMG series promises a smooth driving experience, its core is made up of a passion for motorsports and a spirit that can be summarized in two words – power and performance. These integral traits draw like-minded people who share and express Mercedes-AMG’s style of performance.

The cars we drive say a lot about us, it’s been said. There are several qualities of an AMG performance luxury sedan that overlap with the qualities of its distinguished owner. For instance, creating an impression comes naturally to both, so does the ambition to always deliver an exceptional performance. However, the strongest feature is that both the owner and the AMG marque continually challenge themselves in pursuit of new goals, stretching the limits of performance.

This winning quality comes alive, especially, in the latest Mercedes-AMG marque – the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+. With the most powerful engine to have ever been installed in an E-class, this undisputed performance sedan promises immense power at the driver’s command. With 612 HP under its hood, the car achieves 0-100 km/h in just a few seconds - 3.4 to be precise. Moreover, the car comes with the latest driver-assistance technology that promises intelligent control and provides an agile and responsive ride.

But, the new AMG is not just about work (or traction in car lingo). One of its core features is to provide its owners a challenge on the race track. Its drift mode, which converts the vehicle into a pure rear-wheel drive, offers pure exhilaration and adds a work-play dynamic to the car. In that sense, the new AMG is a collaborator of sorts - one that partners with its owner to create an impression through performance. And on the weekends, the car pushes him/her to express absolute power using its race mode with a thunderous roar of the engine - the pure sound of adrenalin. This balance between work and play has been achieved using cutting-edge features in the car that together create an almost intuitive driver-machine relationship.

If you’re looking for a car that shares your enthusiasm for driving, you’ll find a partner in the new AMG. However, buying an AMG is not just about owning a powerhouse on wheels, it’s also about adopting a driving philosophy in which power is just the starting point - the main skill lies in how you manoeuvre that power on the road. A performance sedan in its sportiest form, Mercedes-AMG’s latest model takes vehicle performance to an unmatched level. A decade ago, this amount of speed and power in a luxury 4-door model would be un-thinkable.

Play

The new Mercedes-AMG comes with a host of individualisation options through designo, the artistic side of Mercedes’s innovation, so the car becomes an extension of the owner’s distinctive personality. An expressive design with a new radiator grille and a muscular front apron showcase its athleticism. A new-age driver environment, widescreen cockpit, the AMG performance steering wheel and sports seat delivers an intensive driving experience. With the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+, AMG has created an undisputed performance sedan that can rip the race track as well as provide reliable luxury sedan-duty. To know more about the most powerful E-class of all time, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mercedes-Benz and not by the Scroll editorial team.