Take Back the Night Kolkata: in conversation
Take Back the Night is a global movement geared towards the elimination of sexual violence of various forms. The first march was held in Belgium in 1976, and over the years, the movement has grown in terms of its reach and also in terms of the issues it deals with. Take Back the Night Kolkata started in 2013, towards the beginning of the year, and despite being very nascent in the city, the movement has been growing in terms of solidarity and action. Glad2baWoman decided to get to know more about the movement and its goals and aspiration through an interview with one of the founders of the Kolkata branch, Shreya Ila Anasuya.
1. You, along with Madhura Chakraborty started Take Back the Night in Kolkata, right? What spurred you on to begin a chapter of the movement over here?
Shreya: The very first TBTN of this series in Calcutta was held on 31 December 2012, in the wake of the Delhi gang-rape and in solidarity with simultaneous events happening in Delhi and Bombay. We then decided that we wanted to do something more sustained and long-term, and we began to hold monthly gatherings.
2. What was the initial response to the movement in the city?
Shreya: It's been really encouraging, actually. Considering that we're quite strongly anti-death penalty, and that a lot of the gatherings have happened at 'unsafe' spaces and 'unsafe' times precisely to normalise the presence of women, queer and trans*persons in public spaces, we've managed to build some of the alliances we had hoped to build, and a strong core group of people committed to attending the gatherings and following up on the actions we collectively decide on.
3. What exactly does the movement hope to achieve?
Shreya: For me, it's a space for long term, nuanced and sustained dialogue, that recognises gender-based violence as pervasive, endemic and intricately linked to other forms of violence. But it is also simultaneously a space for collective action, which may be a one day rally against police inaction in a child-rape case, or a longer-time dialogue with transport and police authorities on freedom of movement for everybody all of the time, not just for heterosexual men.
4. What are the setbacks you had to face while starting TBTN from scratch in this city?
Shreya: One of the biggest problems is actually a Catch 22 – we wanted to normalise the presence of women, queer and trans*folks late at night, but because there is either no public transportation available, or what is available is fraught with challenges such as potential gender-based violence not only from folks on the street but also from the police, we had to change the timings so that a diversity of people could actually attend. This is quite disappointing, but expected, and exactly what we're up against. The other problem is that this is, of course, a very urban and small scale thing. We really want to collaborate with a wider diversity of people and communities – be it vis-a-vis age, ability, income, sexuality, gender, caste, and/or other factors. The spaces are open for everybody, but what ends up happening is that because it is the male identified who are most able to attend, we find ourselves struggling with the diversity issue in yet another way. We are trying to be constantly self-reflexive about this so that we can tackle it in its various forms.
5. What are the changes you’ve seen since Take Back the Night started?
Shreya: One of the best things has been speaking with older, more experienced activists who have been at it so much longer than we have. They understand all this, know all this, so much better than we do. This early on in the movement, with seven monthly gatherings, three other events, a petition and several plans in, I'm glad we're getting the guidance and support we are receiving from these amazing people. I want to do all I can to help them, to listen, and understand.
6. What, according to you, are the major issues related to gender politics which need to be tackled in this country?
Shreya: Wow, that's such a complex question. There are just so, so, so many issues. I think one of the biggest is accountability. We cannot dismiss perpetrators of gender-based violence as deviant psychopaths who deserve to be tortured and killed. The perpetrators are everywhere, as anyone with a non-normative sexuality or the 'wrong' gender will know from daily lived experience. These wider structures of judgment, power and punishment need to be addressed immediately. It seems to me that blaming “sick” individuals, or a particular city, community, class or religion, 'Westernisation' – whatever that is – is all a massive way to continue denial. And denial is extremely dangerous. Girls and women can't move and live freely because of this denial. Trans*persons are harassed by police on a regular basis because of the denial that the gender binary is ridiculously limiting and violent. Queer folks – however they express their sexuality or gender – are violated in so many ways because of the denial of sexuality and expression beyond the heterosexual matrix. These are basic denials that are hurting so many people every single day. I could go on and on about this, this is basically what the TBTN discussion is all about.
7.Tell us a little about some of the gatherings which have taken place since TBTN started in Kolkata.
Shreya: Well, we've had seven monthly gatherings so far, each made unique by the nature of the discussion, whether it is about rape and violence in general to questions of mobility in Kolkata in particular. Besides, we've had a Game Night under the Gariahat Flyover, traditionally a space populated late into the night by cis men playing board games and just 'loitering', as the remarkable book 'Why Loiter?' puts it. We wanted to 'loiter' as well. As Ratnaboli Ray, the mental health rights and gender rights activist said to me on the first TBTN, we have to look at this from a 'freedom' lens, and not a protectionist 'safety' lens. We wanted to loiter, play games, laugh together – so we did.
We also had a rally against the horrific police corruption and inaction in the case of the 5 year old girl's kidnapping and gang-rape in Delhi. We were really angry and also determined to move the conversation beyond the death penalty, into looking at the structural problems we have as a system, a country. We had a really nice 8th March/International Women's Day special, which was a bit more personal and informal in nature. Some people performed, some people went on a walk in a big group. Some sat around and shared stories. It was powerful, and I really appreciated having that space. We are planning many more things, which will be updated on our Facebook page. We can also be emailed on firstname.lastname@example.org.
8.What future do you envision for this dynamic movement?
Shreya: I hope to keep learning and keep taking action, with a wider variety of people and communities, with guidance from those who have been working on this for their whole decades-long careers, and more frequently. I hope many more people will join us for actions and events, as well as for online and offline discussions.