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I Wish We Could Loiter Where & When We Want, As Carefree As The Average Indian Man

Posted: March 2, 2020

An average Indian young woman does not have the luxury to just BE, to loiter, to be alone with her thoughts, like men can. What empowerment?

The dictionary meaning of ‘loiter’ is to ‘stand or wait or walk slowly with no apparent purpose’.

In the past few days, I have been having ‘loiterlust’ (yes I made up that word). I had this urge to walk around aimlessly, to process my thoughts/ emotions/ feelings or even to escape them. But I realized that I just can’t loiter!

Going for a walk, alone?

Let me break it down step by step. Let’s say I (an Indian woman in her twenties/ thirties/ forties) am eager to go for a walk, ALONE. Let’s assume that my average Indian middle class neighborhood does not have a walking track and I have to use the pedestrian section of the thoroughfare.

Firstly, I need to fend off the whats, whens and whys at home. After the aforementioned CBI interrogation, if I am successful in stepping out of the house alone, I need to walk with purpose and direction. Always. If I miraculously manage to circumvent the purpose and direction rules and step out of the house for just a walk, then what will be the consequences?

Consequences

Let me list all the tangible and intangible consequences that I can think of.

  • I have to jostle with other purposeful pedestrians for walking space, in addition to narrowly escaping being hit by two wheelers, four wheelers and heavy motor vehicles.
  • The ‘male gaze’ follows me everywhere, even if it’s a cursory glance. Even if we assume that I’m well covered up by Indian standards and I don’t resemble any female celebrity.
  • If I manage to catch the eye of any woman I know, she will bombard me with more questions about my purpose and direction, or at least send questioning glances my way. In our society, sometimes women moral police other women in pretext of looking out for each other.

Where to?

After braving so many battles already, I ask myself – Where to? The usual ‘respectable’ destinations would be – temple, park, walk around the neighborhood.

But what if I want to walk without a plan? Then without doubt, I’m asking for it. ‘It’ could range from cat calls, verbal remarks, groping or depending on how ‘average’ the neighborhood is, the big R.

Indian women just can’t afford the luxury of loitering. Even if they dared to, where would they go? There are no public places that are conducive to the loitering and contemplation of women- clean enough to sit down, quiet but not eerily so, well shaded but also well lit.

I am reminded of a Tamil movie that I watched as a child. A jobless man loiters at the Gandhi mandapam (a public place in Chennai) and even naps there, without a care in the world. I didn’t think much of that scene then, but now I envy the jobless dude. He could loiter!

Can women be as carefree?

I recently read the account of a young woman who reminisced about a time when she was a child. Her mother could loiter (with a girl child in tow) and sit to contemplate about her life, in a now posh neighborhood of New Delhi.

Sounds like a dream. It made her and readers like me realize that we, millenial women, are not as empowered as we think we are. We are college educated, we have bank accounts, we can drive, we can choose our spouse, but we cannot loiter as some of our mothers could. We don’t have places to contemplate and introspect on the finer points of our lives. An average Indian young woman is repeatedly reminded that it is a luxury to be alone with your thoughts. Gender-induced poverty indeed.

If we show this post to an average Indian male, he will either guffaw at what a wasteful post this is (after all, ‘Why loiter?’) or he will be mind blown by the ground reality for women in this free country. Some privileged women may also react as aforementioned. Well, I pray that the women (and men) reading this, give themselves and the women in their lives the gift of loitering. It may be just the ticket to a safer and happier society.

Image source: shutterstock

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