I woke up today morning, planning to spend a lazy peaceful Sunday. Joining my family on the breakfast table, little did I know that the Sunday was not going to be that peaceful. My parents had the daily newspaper opened and were discussing the headlines which were about women harassment. They were discussing how walking on streets, using public transport, going to school or work, women and girls are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence. This reality of daily life limits their freedom to get an education, to work, or to simply enjoy their own neighbourhood’s. Not a very welcoming Sunday morning breakfast conversation, I thought. I decided to keep quite because I knew if I offered my disparate views it would directly affect my coming back home from anywhere time.
Hence, quietly sipping my coffee I wondered how putting restrictions on one’s girl child the solution? Definitely not when there are reports of women harassment in broad daylight. With surveys and understandings of what is happening around us, isn’t it time that the citizens join hands together to do something about the situation and not just sit at home discussing or waiting for the government to do something. Isn’t it high time people realize that government is just a governing body which cannot function efficiently without active citizen participation. So what can ‘we’ as the citizens do? Wait for the awareness to spread amongst men? Or wait for the day when every men starts respecting women? Or be a part of bringing about the change? But ‘HOW’ is the question?
Whilst I and many like me talk about the issue over social media, a group of students from Rachna Sansad’s Academy of Architecture took a step ahead and decided to get into action. Having taken part in an inter-national level competition in which the brief talked about designing gender sensitive public spaces these students took the competition to another level by creating an organization known as SUPERNARI, to not only create social awareness but also social participation towards understanding and thereby designing gender sensitive spaces. They at the macro-level put up a wish tree at a city level event called EQUAL STREETS in Bandra, in collaboration with an existing NGO called AKSHARA. This event helped them to understand the need of women and general public. Having known the needs of the women the next was to create awareness. For this, a group of college student’s along with volunteers from AKSHARA boarded an open bus in South Mumbai screaming out women safety slogans and holding up hoardings so as to stop gender inequality. Next, since they believed that awareness should be spread at the root level, they organized a poster making competition in the school ‘Our Lady Of Good Counsel’ in Sion on the theme of Women Safety.
Not stopping here, this bunch of students in reality painted the dead and dull Sion skywalk after taking the necessary permissions in an attempt to make it lively. It was a surprise to me when I heard about the enthusiasm of the onlookers and daily passer-by’s who happily participated in this event. This in turn helped in making the space energetic and vivacious. Also they exhibited the posters made by the students along the skywalk in an attempt to beautify it and spread awareness.
They adopted a three faceted approach which basically deals with solving problems at three levels namely: safety, comfort, and mindset. Their main aim was to encourage the use of public-public spaces by making them not only safe but also comfortable, via concept of place making and playscapes. Also, they aimed at introducing participatory planning to develop continuous and direct relationship between people and space and people and people and inculcate a self-development attitude so as to create a symbiotic relationship between the site and the people. Further, they believed that each city and in fact each neighbourhood is unique and requires a local response. Hence, they created a set of guidelines for designing public spaces in the future by establishing a gender norm for the same and proposing different types of value systems depending on the need of the area to aid building up of a healthy community and structuring up a hierarchy.
They demonstrated their objectives by redesigning on paper the area around Sion station which is a major transit hub and has a complex layer of all major typologies and a mix of various communities and proved as one of the suburbs where maximum crimes take place according to their survey.
I don’t know how big a change these small interventions by a bunch of college students has brought or how many minds have they changed but they without doubt have inspired me to be a part of the change in whatever small way I can. They have taught me that it’s important to start, to try without worrying much about the outcome. They have taught me to act and not just wait for someone else to try. Most important they have set an example which, if all citizens of our country start following, I am sure it won’t be long before we can tackle and find solutions for not only the issue of women safety but anything and everything else.
And so here I am feeling proud that it is my juniors who have taken this step. They have once again proved that ‘ACADEMITES ARE DYNAMITES.’ I have started with doing my bit by letting you all know that it is possible to BE THE CHANGE.
P.S. – For detailed information on their works check out their Facebook page SUPERNARI. Also if you want to take a step ahead and contribute to the change you can contact SUPERNARI to work in collaboration with AKSHARA- the NGO these students worked with and are still continuing to work with.