Claiming Public Spaces in the Urban Peripheries: Women Bearing the Brunt

Dedication: To the women in my locality

It was a simmering hot afternoon in July. I checked with the drivers at the Manglapuri bus stand “Where is the South MCD office?” “Didi, you should take the adjacent route and it is opposite Sagarpur police station”, they guided. I took a cycle rickshaw and reached the MCD office. The men in the office compound stared at me as if I was a strange creature in the ‘men zone’. When I checked for the senior officer’s cabin, they had hundreds of frivolous queries. Finally I managed to meet this officer and informed him the purpose of the meeting. When he sensed that I was a representative of a resident collective and was demanding the collective right to access civic amenities, he answered heatedly that he had no time for this discussion and walked out of the cabin with his bundle of files. Flinging my application on the table, he yelled, “I would have offered her time from my busy schedule if she was seeking some personal support on compassionate grounds as a woman”.

As a resident of this locality since two years, I discerned that civic amenities are denied to the residents of Mahavir Enclave since many years. With 68984 voters from this locality, the residents are left with false promises by political leaders after each election. The untarred roads were dug for sewer work a year before and this made the condition of roads more deplorable. During the monsoon season, the road turns too slippery with an amalgam of mud and slimy filthy matter overflowing from the open sewages. These seweges are the breeding grounds for mosquitos now. Moreover, the deep pits become dumping grounds of waste matter accumulated leaving the alarming situation unnoticed to any stranger in the locality.  The long unlit stretches leaves the women and girls unsafe. The cycle rickshaws and e-rickshaws refuse charter to the unlit and deep pit roads and women have to walk down through these stretches from the metro stations. However, the presence of vegetable vendors and presswalas in some lane joints until late evenings makes the female pedestrians feel safe while they commute back from office through these unlit stretches. Women generally make short but frequent trips for dropping and picking up children, purchase of household items, domestic servants for their work, office going women to board bus or metro from the junction etc. They do not have any pedestrian space due to the encroachment by the builders and also parking of big vehicles. The speedy motor cyclists neglect the rights of pedestrians in these roads. Female pedestrians are victims to many fatal accidents as they dodge in and out of the traffic and the bad road. The worst hit are the aged and physically challenged women. However, their health concerns are least prioritized in the patriarchal society that we all belong. Female commuters also encounter fear of theft from the homeless families residing under the Mahavir Enclave flyover as they wait at the traffic lights. These homeless families are not  rehabilitated by the government and are exposed to the most unhygienic conditions. The children are out of school and are into street begging as well as robbery. This spot is prone to trafficking of women and girls as well.

The Government of Delhi has rolled out its Road Safety Policy  since July 2018. Inspite of using environment friendly modes of transport, the needs of women are not seen a priority in the peripheries of the capital. These urban pockets are densely populated as well as congested and should be in the primacy of the government on the provision of civic amenities. Women commute from these outskirts to the offices located Central Delhi. The residents of Mahavir Enclave had made tireless attempts in expressing their concerns to the concerned elected representatives. Every year they are left with a response of fund crunch with the government. If we could get red carpet roads for our Ministers in Central Delhi, why are the rights of the women tax payers residing in the peripheries a least priority? Where is government’s accountability in ensuring safe mobility of women? The poor access to civic amenities are hampering female access to hospitals, banks, drop outs in schools esp during monsoons, forced quitting from jobs by women due to family pressure, participation in the local meetings and family gatherings and moreover the general absence of women on the roads aggravating insecure feeling for women to be in public spaces.

Women deal with heights of gender insensitivity while claiming public spaces. Duty bearers expect women to be very submissive and to be attended at their liberty. They might camouflage to be in a ‘protector’s role’, but can never accept women who speak to them in the ‘rights’ language. Though delayed, justice cannot  be denied. The women of this locality embark more wholeheartedly to voice this issue without losing hope.



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Rajini R. Menon

I am a crusader of women's rights - work as Regional Gender Coordinator in Oxfam India.