Men, Cows, and Sluts: Public Space in Ahmedabad

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I am a woman. I happen to come from a middle class family and live in a rather middle class Hindu neighborhood in Ahmedabad. The Shiv Sena colony of apartments lies right opposite to my apartment.

Ahmedabad is divided into two: the east, which is rather poor and considered dangerous by the middle class west, mostly because of the idea that it is rather Muslim dominated. The west is mostly Hindu. The Sabarmati river, fed into by Narmada waters, divides these two. Until I was 17, the most east I had been was to my school on the other side of the bank.

I did not know what public spaces meant until I went to France, where I began to see them as a meeting place of town or city dwellers irrespective of their socio-economic background. These spaces could be public transportation, or the many parks and squares that become neutral grounds for encounters. These are not temples that I visited on Sundays growing up in India, nor parking spaces of apartments that are segregated to the sub-caste and where I spent my childhood playing with other kids (where I live in Ahmedabad would not allow non-Gujarati non-Hindu families to rent or buy apartments because they would potentially cook meat and hence destroy the “purity” of the living space.)

So once I decided that I wanted to, as a woman, claim my space in this absent public space, I entered as a slut. I was surrounded by men and cows as I walked through the traffic and the million stares that I dared not look back into. These stares were those that told me that I had, by the very act of leaving the covers of my household, deserved to be stared at, and become a public entity to be observed, objectified, and vulgarized. I stopped being a human; I became an object. I am now an object every time I close the door to my house, for then I become an object of my neighbors’ vulgar curiosity. As I go down the stairs, choosing not to take the elevator, I am judged for my femininity. As I walk alone from then on, deciding which direction to take without a male to direct my beastly spirit, I have made a complete conversion to a slut. I am now an object that is devoid of any moral considerations.

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About Shreya Parikh

I am Shreya. Project Rethought is my attempt to rethink my own observations as a brown woman of Indian origin. I currently live in Paris where I teach at Sciences Po Paris and Parsons Paris-The New School.
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