Back in September, Yuva Sena president, Aaditya Thackeray submitted a proposal to Mumbai’s municipal authorities to keep open shops, eateries, chemists and milk services 24×7. [Link] This makes good economic sense since India’s service sector is no longer in-sync with a conventional work day. So it is natural that support services such as eateries would adapt to a new business environment. This suggestion by Aditya Thackeray was presumably offered from an economic stand point. But I believe there is another, equally good and important, reason to keep businesses open through out the night. I, however, offer this from a social stand point; from a girl’s point of view.
During night time, under the cover of darkness, most public places in the city are taken over by anti-social elements. You can find long stretches of roads with no street lights and with almost no public transport operational, making going out and travelling at night a risky endeavour for most women. And if business were allowed to stay open all night, then the streets will be as buzzing and vibrant as any day.
The traditional concept of a workday is anyway being replaced by work shifts, which do not conform to conventional office timings. Economic activities in cities today are carried out round-the-clock. Why is working at night then not considered as normal as working during the day? Why are there no 24×7 services for those working 24×7? Doing so will have two implications I believe.
One, streets will be filled with people in the night just as during the day, making cities safer for the women working late at night. Nights will no longer be a safe haven for molesters and rapists. This is not to suggest that there are no cases of molestation and rape during the day. But relatively speaking, they happen less during the day than they do at night; for the simple reason it is more difficult to harass a woman in bright day-light when the streets are filled with people, and get away with it.
To use the phrase “they happen less during the day” is to underline the fact that I have no intention to suggest that this step will stop incidences of rapes all together. But it is to say that it will be a step in the right direction.
The second implication is psychological. If working at night becomes as normal as working during the day, the taboo against women working at night may also fade away. And if this taboo goes away then the presumption that girls seen out of their homes after a certain time at night have a “green signal” of availability hanging around their neck, might also go away.
Today girls returning home late at night are deemed girls of loose moral character by society. They are accused of “inviting” rape. The rhetoric “shareef ghar ki ladkiyan der raat tak ghar se baahar nahi rehti,” is what inadvertently legitimizes sexual harassment. This is something which has to be changed.
Remember those old Bollywood movies in which the patriarchs of families having high social status would tell the women of the house: “iss ghar ki auraten baahar jaa kar naukari nahi karti.” And if the daughter or the daughter-in-law were found doing a job in an office, it would bring huge dishonour to the family. In some instances they would show a male colleague in the office would have an evil eye on the woman and would molest her; and the moral of the story would be: girls are the honour of the family and if they step out of the house, the honour of the family also leaves along with her. Thus the woman’s movements have to be monitored and restricted. But this changed with time. Today there is no longer a taboo on women working in an office. However, she is still not free to work at night. The taboo still persists with regard to working late at night. This is what needs to change. Society has to learn that girls working outside the house, whether during the day or at night, are not “available.”
This step is not at all a panacea; not the final step; not even a big step. But it is a step in the right direction. A step to break the shackles of traditional moral policing of girls.
[Maneesha Tripathi is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science. She can be reached via email at: tripathi.maneesha89 [at] gmail.com]