Rani Takes Over!

Standard

A report with photos by Mamta D

From 25th March to 31 st March, there’s a week-long street art festival happening at Marol, Andheri, Mumbai. What’s unique about the fest is that it’s the first time something like this has been organized in India exclusively for women.

Why the need for a women’s only street art fest, you may ask? Think of manels in India. Despite there being many large numbers of qualified eligible women speakers, time after time you see conventions and panels selecting only male speakers. The number of women speakers invited by organizers is negligibly small.

In the same vein, women artists are seldom seen on the streets, even in an urban setting like Mumbai. This is definitely not due to a dearth of women artists but due to myriad reasons, one of which is the prevalent mindset of society, a society not accustomed to seeing women boldly painting buildings and walls. It is time to change this now. Wicked Broz, a group of graffiti artists based in Marol together with Military Road Residents Welfare Association (MRRWA) conceived the idea of a women’s only street art fest and put it into motion. “LadiesFirst” it was to be called. A hashtag was coined – #RaniTakeOver. The fest would have talented female artists from all over who would lead the street art project through murals on buildings and other spaces, talks, workshops, films on art, discussions on street art and more! That’s what they hope to start with, at this first women’s only street art movement in Marol, Mumbai and then later, they aspire to take it to other cities as well. To normalize women creating street art. Anywhere. In any form.

A blog post was created on the WickedBroz site to announce this, an Instagram account was created, and friends and well-wishers were asked to send out tweets in support. Soon, the word spread. They even found sponsors in Camlin, Harley Davidson India, Art Lounge and more such enterprises.

Participating artists for the building mural project include Anpu Varkey from Goa, Abigail Aroha Jensen from Auckland, NZ, Kesar Khinvasara from Pune, Avantika Mathur from Mumbai, Lena McCarthy (originally from Boston, now in India), Shirin, and Ratna Kailash.

white wall waiting to be painted

white wall waiting to be painted

Today, 25th March, Day 1 of the event kicked off. By late noon, eagerly, I headed to the venue: Bharat Van, the public park at Military Road, Marol. It was pleasant to step inside the cool greens of the park after being surrounded by concrete all week. Tall trees, thick green shrubs, a colourful blossom here and there and I was already feeling joyous. Being a public park, there were some ‘walkers’ and ‘joggers’. In the center of the park, sitting in a circle on stone benches under a domed shelter, was a motely group of people. I headed towards them and introduced myself. I was told that the artists were away in different parts of Marol, painting the buildings. I was then shown the ampitheater area with stone steps, some distance away from the sitting group. Late in the evening, art-based films would be screened there. I was also shown a few white-coated walls in the park that would be painted in the next few days. I was shown the hall where workshops would be held. Meanwhile, the group struck up an impromptu singing session.

abigail singing

abigail singing

The mood was warm and hearty with laughter all around. By then, some of the artists returned. Abigail from Auckland was one of them. Though exhausted after painting most of the day, she was roped in for the impromptu song session and she responded with enthusiasm.

I was getting late for my long journey back home so I reluctantly bid adieu and headed out. Day 1 was eventful! In the next few days, some lucky buildings of Marol will be transformed by the talented hands of women artists from all over. And there will be more discussions, films, art walks and so on. You should go, if you are in Mumbai.

Here’s the agenda for Day 2:

WickedBroz: http://wickedbroz.com/
Venue of the event: Bharat Van, Near Customs Colony, Marol Military Rd, Andheri (East),
Mumbai.
Contact: 8887795823

Ladies’ Special

Standard

I travelled in a “Ladies Only” taxi for the first time this week. The 26 km commute from the airport was one of discovery–that many women work outside their homes in this megapolis at great personal cost.

I was walking to the taxi stand when a girl in her mid-20s, in trousers and sharp pin-striped shirt, approached me asking if I needed a cab. She was from “XYZ” car company that ran a fleet taxi service for women with women drivers.  She told me she drove a Mahindra Logan and for my destination she would charge by the km and give a receipt.  I decided to try it and hopped in. Alas, we barely went 20m when the car stopped.  And then came the first discovery: some men will not lose any opportunity to pull down a woman they see in a job  that has traditionally been their preserve.

A bunch of Cool Cab drivers sidled up to the car – one started mocking the driver “J”  for the crappy car she drove, another patronisingly asked her if she knew what to do, a third asked her if she knew how to switch between CNG & petrol . While she opened up the bonnet, a few more mean comments came by. She sat back in car, called a colleague to take her fare ( i.e., me) and then called her company to report the problem.

While I waited in her car for the next cab to come, I asked her what she would do. She said she would move the car to the side and go home. The company would send a towing van when they could arrange for it. I worried for her safety even in the supposedly secure premises of India’s busiest airport.

“M” came by a few minutes later. She expertly transferred my bags into her Hyundai Accent and we drove off. On discovering I spoke the local language, M spent the next 26 kilometres telling me her life story.  Having lost her mum to cancer 2 years earlier, M gave up on a college degree. Her older sister had just gotten married, her 2 younger siblings were under 10 and she had finished class 12.  Her painter dad needed another income to pay off medical loans and get the household running.  M’s neighbour was a lady-cabbie and she decided to give it a go. She got through her driving test and training and got a job as one of the 25 or so lady cabbies of the city. The system worked like this: every fortnight she paid the cab company 9000 rupees; the rest of her earnings, less the cost of fuel, was her income (around10-15000 Rs. p.m) . She said she preferred doing at least 1 airport trip a day and then came my second discovery: M did not use a public toilet anywhere in the city other than the airport. Said she “held” herself because the public toilets were dirty or wet or simply unusable.  If she was lucky, she got a chance to use a facility at a fare’s office building.

This reminded me of Sujata Anandan’s article. When the physiological needs of a woman member of Maharashtra State’s Cabinet is not factored in by colleagues, the needs of women taxi drivers come low in the pecking order of responsibilities of governments and municipalities towards its citizens.

Makes me wonder:

  • What is the role of regulatory bodies when it comes to behaviour of its members?
    It’s bad enough a lady cabbie is ribbed in broad daylight with a passenger sitting in her vehicle, what happens if some of those men are drunken louts, at night?  The Taximen’s Union is not the most liked group of people in the city; this experience confirmed that many of its members have one hell of a mean streak. They rage against change in a way that is hurtful beyond belief and the Union has no interest in enforcing some basic human values in them. In few cities will less civilised people be in charge of passenger transport. How can we claim our place at the high table of world powers if we cannot ensure some order among our taximen?  I hope some good Samaritans would have helped J push her car aside at the airport that day because not one of those Cool Cab drivers showed any inclination to help.

  • Just how high are the cards stacked against women?  We talk of reservations to acquire political power but what about creating an environment where they can work without facing hostility?

  • And finally: just what is it about us and poor sanitation?  Why can’t we build more toilets and having built them why can’t we keep them clean ? Incidentally, you know when you are going past the men’s loo at the airport arrival lounge–the stink is in the air. Tells me whoever designed the ventilation system didnt do a good job . Of course,  it would help if the airport authorities invested in some air fresheners too.

Or maybe we must have self cleaning loos everywhere and pray to Swachcha Narayani instead.

Public humiliation is gender violence

Standard

Public humiliation is as old as the Mahabharata game of dice (at least) and as recent as this story that follows. In most cases, the woman becomes the pawn in a power-play that is really about entirely different things.

One of the saddest parts of this story is that Bombay/Mumbai, where I grew up and which we have in the past proudly described as “safe for women,” has chosen to pay no attention to this horrible incident.

Smruti Koppikar, A metropolis is shamed, Outlookindia.com, July 12, 2010. Original URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?266070

“Snaking between the godowns of Mumbai’s Reay Road area are bylanes in which human dwelling competes with garbage mounds and slush. In this unacknowledged part of the city, on Mira Dargah Street near Darukhana, holed up in one of the several slum huts, lives an equally unacknowledged 22-year-old woman. She has refused to step out in her basti for more than a fortnight now; one or two policemen have kept vigil over her and her mother. The woman, a Dalit, was verbally abused, beaten with sticks, stripped of her clothes and dragged through the basti to the taunts, jeers and catcalls of whoever gathered to watch.

““I can’t go out there,” sobs Reema (name changed). “I kept shouting ‘No’, yet they kept beating me and  ripping off my clothes and dragging me around, shouting ‘neech jaat, neech jaat (low caste)’. They kept telling one another to take turns at abusing, beating and insulting her. Some men even took photos on their mobiles, laughing all the time. I wanted to die.” She has been weeping and angry by turns since that fateful Thursday, June 17. Her  ordeal of about half an hour ended when her neighbour, Saeeda Qazi, mustered courage to cover her up with a dupatta just as a police team arrived. Her mother, who was also beaten as she tried to  protect her daughter, had gone to the nearest police station for help. “We didn’t cook or eat for days,” says the mother. “They did this because we are the only Dalit Marathi family here. They don’t want us around. Also, my son and I have fought many times, refusing to pay for the community water tap. So, when he wasn’t around, they took revenge.”

“The accused: 17 upper-caste women, seven of whom are absconding. One obtained bail almost immediately in what is actually a non-bailable offence while the others say they are confident of getting bail this week. For the record, offences were registered under several ipc sections—for unlawful assembly, rioting, outraging the modesty of a woman. Offences were also registered under Sections 3 (1), 3(10) and 3 (11) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “It’s a clear case of atrocity. The family has been provided security since then,” says ACP Dilip Waghmare, of the Wadala division. The police say a group of about 30 women and a few men led by one Sharada Yadav had planned the stripping and parading after the victim’s brother, a security guard, was arrested in a rape case.

““Whether he is a rapist or not will be decided by law,” says Shakil Ahmed of Nirbhay Bano Andolan, a voluntary group that is supporting the family with legal and other assistance. “What they did to the sister is unacceptable and unpardonable by any standards.” Ahmed is pained by the relative indifference of Mumbai civil society and activists to this particular case.

“Maharashtra’s record of atrocities on people from the scheduled castes shows a nearly 100 per cent increase from 2004 to  2008, the number of registered cases having risen over the period from 689 to 1,173. Data tracked by the state government shows an average of about 1,000 crimes each year for the last six years against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The conviction rate was an abysmal three per cent. “Forget the government,” says the bitter mother, “even the so-called Dalit netas have not come to share our grief. Someday the policemen will stop coming here, and then what happens to us?” The answers are not easy.”