At midnight on the seventh death anniversary of the Delhi gangrape victim on Sunday, thousands of women across cities and villages in Kerala took to the streets to drive home the importance of making public places safer for women. Organised by the women and child welfare department of the Kerala government, the ‘rathri nadatham’ or night walk saw close to 8000 women hitting the streets without male accompaniment, lighting candles and raising slogans.
Actors, writers, intellectuals and media personalities joined in to drum up support. Most of them walked in small groups of twos and threes while others joined in bigger groups.
Many women chose to bring elderly members and children of their family too. Routes for the night walk were pre-decided by respective local bodies through the extensive ‘Kudumbashree’ self-help group networks.
Though the initial registration for the event didn’t see active support of the public, the organisers were thrilled to watch the final head-count rising way above their expectations.
Thrissur district in central Kerala saw the maximum number of places covered under the night walks (47), followed by Palakkad (31), Malappuram (29) and Kottayam (29). Elected heads of local bodies like corporations and municipalities took the lead in inaugurating the night-walks and spelling out the pledge for the participants.
Police teams were kept on standby in case of any kind of distress calls.
The programme was conceived by the state government as a way of asserting the right of women to use public spaces at night and to commute fearlessly. Though the programme saw wide public participation, there’s a need for more concrete steps to make roads safer and accessible for women at night.
Khadeejamma, women-child development officer of the urban ICDS project of the Kochi Corporation, was among the main organisers of the night walk in Kochi. She led dozens of participants through Palarivattom and Edappally neighbourhoods of the city, beginning to walk shortly after 11 pm and concluding post-midnight.
As they walked in twos and threes, they managed to garner a lot of curious glances from motorists and drivers, she said.
“There were taxi drivers who even stopped their vehicles when they saw women walking alone at that time of the night. They were curious,” she said. “After walking to the designated terminal points, we walked back to our homes after stopping for chai and snacks on the way. It was a good experience for me.”
Soniya Sunil, a home-maker, said she took along her child and a family member for the night-walk after hearing of the same through her Kudumbashree group. “For girls belonging to the next generation, we need such night-walks to impart strength and courage to them. The streets belong to them too,” said Soniya, over the phone.
“What we need is better lighting on the roads. Only when there’s darkness, do we fear there could be something lurking there. In several areas in the city, there are still no street-lights. So the government should fix that.”
The women and child welfare department has more programmes, including night walks, planned in the state till March 8, International Women’s day.
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