In a move to improve the social inclusion of women, the Kerala state government has introduced a new programme titled as Night Walk. The Night Walk will be organised by the Women and Child Development Department across 100 selected locations in the state from 11 PM on December 29 to 1 AM on December 30, to reclaim the public spaces for women.
State minister for Women and Child Development, KK Shailaja Teacher, on December 26 announced the programme with the motto Pothu idam entethu (public space is mine too). December 29 marks the day on which Nirbhaya, the rape victim had succumbed to death after fighting for 13 days for her life in 2012 in New Delhi.
The scheme stands for reclaiming the public spaces, which is inaccessible for a large section of women. “It is being noticed that women have certain fear in travelling freely at night time. The night walk aims to deal with such struggles and help them get rid of such fears,” Shailaja said, describing the motive of the scheme.
More than that, “there are certain people who misbehave with women who step out in the night. The programme also aims to gather more information about such people to take strict action against them,” she added.
The minister also said that the night walk is not a single day programme and there will be future walks which will not be announced in advance. More walks will be conducted in every week with the help of volunteers.
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“The volunteers will assist the participants with finding toilets, will guide them if they are lost, etc. Some neighbourhood groups have also expressed interest in setting up street-side eateries for the walk,” said TV Anupama, director of Women and Child Development department.
“Functioning of CCTVs and street lights in these locations will be checked and this has been communicated to the authorities concerned,” Anupama added.
Meanwhile, some people have also criticised this programme as they are of the opinion that walking with the protection of state and its machinery is a kind of imposition of patriarchy.
“I do respect the motive of the government. At the same time, I don’t think that walking in the presence or protection of the police would help the women to overcome such fears. But, certainly it depends upon the next steps of the programme,” Dr Khadija Mumtaz, a Kerala Sahitya Academy award winning writer, told NewsClick about how she sees the step of the state government.
“But definitely the walk will help them to understand how it is to walk at night. But walking with the protection of police is somewhat like travelling with men,” she pointed out the contradiction.
“I am wondering which class of women would be participating in this programme. Several activists have raised their objections to the particular move. They say that they don’t want a night walk with police protection and they won’t be associating with this particular programme. To an extent, I too feel that the walk with police protection won’t be as effective as it is supposed to be,” she further added.
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When asked about the future walks that would take place without making such public call, she replied, “I welcome it.”
“Now, it is becoming common that groups of women are organising their own tours. And it is quite different from the family tours. When they travel alone, they conceive the journey and community feeling in a different level. So, the women may get the same feel when they walk in groups in nights. Altogether, I welcome it as a first step and eagerly waiting for the future endeavours,” she added.
Aswathi KT, the president of Kayakkodi Gram panchayat—a high range area in Kozhikode district—sees it as a positive move. Aswathi, the youngest among the presidents of gram panchayat across the state, said, “We got a mail urging us to organise the elected representatives of the panchayat along with women from neighbourhood organisations such as Kudumbasree, anganwadi workers, residence associations, women organisations etc. We were also told that this will be an ongoing programme.”
“For the programme on December 29, we have conducted a meeting of representatives from various organisations and the response was overwhelming,” Aswathi told NewsClick.
“These women are not critical of the conception of the programme, whether its part of a patriarchal system which consider women to be the protected ones,” she expressed her take on the programme.
“The social elites who can access the space comparatively easier consider it as a farce. When such initiatives are being taken, we should consider the working class as well and what message it gives to the society as whole.”