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Violence Against Women

Pratiksha Baxi

By Sara Pilot  and Lora Prabhu
Zubaan, Delhi, 2012, pp. 337, Rs. 595.00


T he Fear That Stalks, a product of a conference organized by CEQUIN in collaboration with UNDP and NCW, speaks to the complicated nature and multifaceted dimensions of gender-based violence in public spaces. This excellent collection of nine essays spread over three hundred pages anticipates some of the debates on sexual violence that resounded in the streets of Delhi in the winter of 2012.  Urvashi Butalia signposts the notion of public spaces around four registers. She points out that the very notion of public space is gendered since patriarchal frameworks assign to femininity the space of domesticity and public spaces to masculinity. Space is not a homogenous category, although the meaning of what is a public space is controlled, regulated and controlled by the state. For instance, the criminalization of the poor accompanies the expulsion of the working class workplace from the street, neighbourhood or park. Butalia points out that space is distinct from place. Hence, women’s ability to find a space of leisure, imagination or creativity at home is a product of historical struggle. The essays address varied notions of public and private spaces and/or places with the intent of highlighting the complex ways in which gender based violence finds inscription. Moving to the cityscapes of Mumbai, Shilpa Phadke’s rich and nuanced ethnographic foray offers a distinct reading of how women inhabit the city. One of the ways women inhabit the city is by performing ‘purpose’ (p. 56). Moving about the city purposively, in groups, on the phone, carrying pepper sprays, with male escorts, women produce safety. At the same time, women must manufacture respectability. Very insightfully, Phadke notes that ‘by creating an environment where women are forced to manufacture respectability, neighbourhoods actually reduce women’s capacity to defend themselves lest they be seen as “loose women”’ (p. 64). Pondering over policy implications, Phadke points out attention to whether built environments (street lights, pavements, bill boards, design) can alter the way a city can potentially be more inclusive.This essay speaks to Sanjay Srivastava’s perspicacious account of the formation of masculinities in shaping public spaces. While emphasizing the immense importance of researching masculinities, Srivastava explicates how the city and its consumption is constituted by hete-rosexual male desires. Srivastava speaks to Butalia’s observation that most men do not feel sexually unsafe in the city and largely ‘men remained firmly located within their sense of privilege’ (p. 1). Perhaps it ...

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