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On 16 December, 2012, a young woman in Delhi, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was brutally assaulted. However, a group of young women in India led by Neha Singh, refused to be scared away from public spaces.
Since 2013 (after the 2012 Delhi gang rape incident) the BBC comes out with a list of 100 inspiring women – BBC 100 Women – each year. The idea is to create a series focusing on issues and achievements of women in society; a list of women, working on various issues, which otherwise, might not get media coverage.
Going through the BBC 100 Women 2016 featuring women across the world, I can see that they have one thing in common: if you want change, you need to be the change.
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It could be the first woman to be elected bishop in the Anglican church of South Africa, or a member of a group called ‘Hipster Hijabis’, a group which through their Instagram accounts posts pictures of Hijab clad women in fashionable dresses.
A 20 year old from a remote village in India who is the first school pass out from a unique schooling system called ‘School in a cloud’ or an acid attack victim from Colombia whose efforts led to the approval of a law in her name, penalizing such attacks.
The one story I would like to talk about though is that of a group of young women, who walk the streets of Mumbai from 12 am to 3 am, once a month.
We do talk about atrocities, violence, and injustice. There are marches in protests against the vile incidents of rape. But it the end, there is not much done about countering such incidents. All we do is be a little more careful than before. A little more fearful than before.
Yes, we do have better laws against rape now, but would a rapist think about the law before committing the crime?
If we need to claim our rights on public spaces, we need to occupy them. And that is what Neha Singh is trying to achieve – inspired by the book ‘Why Loiter’.
Are there challenges to doing things differently? Absolutely yes. However, that is how change comes around. If people get more used to seeing woman on the roads, it might help bring about a change in perspective.
Lessons from an initiative like this can be extrapolated to all avenues of one’s life – personal or professional. As a society we tend to value the opinion of others more over one’s own. We do so, because that is what is looked up to.
Obeying one’s parents is dharma. And having an opinion, sometimes different from that of authority, is looked down upon. What the ‘world’ around us thinks of us is weighted way higher than what we want.
We are stickler for rules. And we have become really good at following them.
Hence, even if we have found our voice against the unfair, we definitely lag behind in action.
A missed promotion or deadlines hard to meet; we end up cribbing about it to our colleagues rather than escalating it to our superiors. A difficult mother-in-law might be talked about vehemently amongst daughters-in-law. But free and open communication between the two individuals concerned is not commonplace.
Demanding rights, questioning authority, acting against the unfair are certain traits which are not looked up to in a culture which idolizes sacrifice. And as a result we have been stuck with social evils which any modern society should not have to deal with.
To be women who find change, we have to be the change. We have to walk the roads in the dark, fight for that promotion and face our personal conflicts head on.
The top image is a screen grab from a YouTube video in which Neha Singh talks of why she began the initiative. Do watch it here.
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