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Give Us Safety, Not Protection!

Posted: November 21, 2013

The recent Cobrapost expose that claimed a young woman in Bangalore was being stalked illegally using Gujarat state resources has set us all a-twitter, and and of course, the official version that we are being asked to accept is that it was done ‘for her own protection’, at the request of her father.

A lot of conversation centres around whether her family was aware of it, whether her family requested it, whether she was in some danger that justified it – in short, did the demands of ‘protecting’ a young woman justify the surveillance?

Whether all the facts as presented by the expose are correct or not, whether or not her father asked for it, regardless of who ‘Saheb’ is and what his interest in the surveillance was, as women, the arguments adopted in defense should make us very, very scared – because, all obfuscation aside, the defense boils down to this: We did it for her own good (never mind that the Indian constitution does not authorize surveillance because anyone’s uncle asked for it).

This is not acceptable, regardless of which party does it  – and its entirely possible that the party in question is not the only one doing such snooping or misusing official machinery, so it is not about which party you support. This is about whether you think women need safety or protection.

What’s the difference?

big-brother-watchingSafety is the ability to walk on the roads, knowing that no one considers you an encroacher or anomaly in public space because you are a woman. Protection is when your family asks you to stay indoors, or you decide its a bad idea to go out after 9, because the roads are not safe for you.

Safety is public transport that runs at all hours of day and night, and connects all localities, even ones not close to the main road. Protection is segregating women in women only compartments, because we cannot ensure safety in the general.

Safety is knowing that if you sense danger, you can report it, and there is a police system to come to your aid (or a highway patrol, or a cybercrime unit, as the case may be). Protection is your parents monitoring all your activities and curbing some of them for good measure, knowing that no system exists to apprehend danger.

Safety is knowing that in the event of an attack, your attacker will be put away by a competent investigative and judicial system, so that another woman is not attacked. Protection is hiding away from all potential attackers, limiting your life so you don’t get on their radar.

Safety is knowing that if you are in a bad marriage, you can count on the support of those dear to you. Protection is when those dear to you chop off your head, so you don’t get into what they believe is a bad marriage.

When we work towards safety, we work for better cities and systems for all women. When we work towards protection, we have already given up – we have accepted that women need to be monitored, controlled and subdued so they don’t ‘invite danger’.

When we work towards safety, if a woman is in danger because of a stalker, we go all out to identify, warn and arrest the stalker. When we work towards protection, we mount surveillance on this woman so we can ensure nothing happens to her.

When we work towards safety, we assume women are adults who can make their own choices in an environment geared to protect the interests of all. When we work towards protection, we assume that women must always be cared for and overseen, whether they want it, like it – or not – and the state is only taking over the role of father or brother.

In short, safety is about all of us working together to create better spaces, better systems for all citizens. Protection is paternalistic surveillance at its most benign and honour killing at its worst (when the ‘protectee’ fails to measure up to the criteria for being protected).

Women (and men) need safety, but we don’t need the protection of Big Brother, however benign the motives may be.

Pic credit: Nat media museum (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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