Re/Claiming the City - Questioning and Re-Imagining Public Spaces. Experiences from Three Cities in India.

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:45
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Sneha SHARMA, Center for Development Research (Zentrum fur Entwicklungsforschung), Germany
As against the backdrop of the gruesome 2012 rape-case in the capital of India, many are questioning the safety and accessibility to their city-spaces. Women engage in a conscious self-monitored pattern of movement through the city. Space and its material environment interact in a dialectical relationship, each actively produces the other. Different bodies experience spaces differently. Social hierarchies are intrinsically linked to how spaces are used. Inequality and vulnerability extend to not only women, but include transgenders alike. Current feminist literatures recognize the nuanced multi-scalar stratification of structural inequalities in society produced by inter-sectionality of race, caste and class. Urban spaces are sites of negotiation and contestation. Gendering happens by locating certain bodies (male/female/transgender) in certain spaces as appropriate or inappropriate.

Representations of space as conceived by planners, policy makers as expressed through maps, signs, budgets (Lefebvre work on ‘Production of space’) determine the production of social relations and thus occupy a central position to be critically reflected upon. Current research asks how we go beyond the process of gendering spaces. The paper weaves through interesting recent movements by activist groups like ‘Right to loiter, Right to public display of affection, Kiss of love movement against moral policing in public’ to explore alternative visions of the city.It draws on the lived experiences and narratives of women which expose multiple layers of complexities; as well as survey data/ NGO reports from three cities in India- Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata. Practical examples are drawn from newspaper reports to critically look at solutions given by urban planners. The paper argues that increasing visibility of women and transgender community in public spaces could be an alternative to re/claim public spaces by challenging the dominant imagination of the city. This could be a way to mainstream gender and have a fare-shared city.