Reclaiming the Streets: Battling for a woman’s ‘right to space’

Reclaiming the Streets: Battling for a woman’s ‘right to space’

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A scene from the rehearsal of the play

On a tightly-packed bus, a man is ogling at the woman next to him. As time passes, no one stops him. He tries to make a pass at her. There’s nothing new to this story. In fact, several versions of it take place on a regular basis. Now think of this as a street play, where audiences are invited to step into the shoes of any of the commuters, and behave as they would have, or should have. In the closing days of September, Delhi’s nerve centres which are usually left out of the mainstream culture circuit, saw such plays pop out on the streets. Here, the actors were willing to step down and let audience members take their place. This is “Gender-Ventions”, a series of public performances which started out in places such as the Anand Vihar ISBT, Patparganj, and Malka Ganj among others.

Conceptualised and directed by Niranjani Iyer, the project is the result of a conversation between her and representatives of Goethe Institut/Max Muller Bhavan. “We wanted to do something with an emphasis on the ideas of gender, identity and space,” she says. The young team of 15-odd floating members comprising actors, activists and students, covered four-five locations every day, for three days . The result was candid conversations on the “right to space” with people from different pockets of the society.

“Space is very important. In the last three years I have come to realise that woman don’t really have any space in the city. How many women do you see just loitering and hanging around? You are always planning your day, which route to take; always wondering about by what time you’ll be safe home,” says Iyer, who moved to Delhi from Paris three years ago. “If you want to have some kind of ownership over the city, you can’t go through spaces as if you were being hunted,” she elaborates. It was dance residency at Gati that brought Iyer, a practitioner of image and participatory theatre, to Delhi.

The team of Gender-Ventions is now moving the project to relatively “more” closed spaces, which include venues such as Dilli Haat. “The idea is to make public spaces more inclusive. Most women don’t stop and stare, and that’s something we are hoping to encourage,” says Iyer. The project also invites women to share their pictures on Facebook in stances not often associated with women — like standing in a public square like a man does – hands on the hips. A new series of public performances will soon be marked for November.

Gender-Ventions will take place at Select Citywalk on Monday, 4pm to 8pm. For details call 9999532388