Why women don’t loiter in India

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Why women don’t loiter in India

Nilanjana Bhowmick writes about why women don’t just walk around for a while with no reason in India.


Photo by Prashanth Pinha on Unsplash

A couple of years ago I went to get a new driving licence. When I walked through the big government office, I could only see men. That made me think and I couldn’t forget about what I thought. After this, I often noticed how mostly men are everywhere in public spaces – markets, parks, government offices. They loiter, they stand around in groups on pavements, they crowd public transport.

In India, women do not loiter especially in northern India, where I live. They use the public spaces and then they leave. But in other places like in southern or eastern India women move about outside their homes more, but they still just use the public spaces and then leave, often with a man to look after them. There are many reasons for this, but the most important reason is that the streets are not safe for women.

Can India’s new smart cities change this? The government thinks so. It gave $437.4 million to change 100 cities into ‘smart cities’ with safer public spaces for women. The plan was to do this between 2018 and 2021, but most of the work is not finished because there are not enough skilled workers and because of Covid-19.

The Smart Cities Mission’s website says it is ‘to improve the quality of life of people by using technology’. The cities would have more surveillance cameras, with smart street lights linked to them and all connected together to keep watch across the city and create safer public spaces. But all these things together are what Indian women worry about – surveillance. They get enough surveillance at home and in their neighbourhoods.

Would women be able to loiter without a worry in these smart cities? I have never loitered in India. Never. The first time I realized it was possible to be on the street without a reason was when I was studying in the UK. I don’t think I could loiter without a worry with a hundred cameras watching me.

Ayona Datta is a professor of Human Geography at University College, London. She says that the increased surveillance doesn’t really help with the problems of misogyny and patriarchy that stop women’s independence. Datta has researched the politics of changes in cities in the Global South. And she led the ‘Gendering the Smart City’ project to understand how women use technology and how it affects them in what they do in the home and the city.

Datta said, ‘We know that surveillance can be very unequal and harmful for women because the first violence they face is from their families, from their neighbourhoods, and from their neighbours. And this surveillance can bring with it ideas about women’s rightful place and women’s rightful body, their clothes, and their behaviour.’

Smart cities won’t change that. They won’t give women the right to loiter, they will just keep watch over them if they do decide to loiter.



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)