Ground Reports

Women Reclaim The Streets of Bengaluru. This Is Why

The midnight walks initiative in Bengaluru challenges the unspoken belief that women should not be out at night, and aims to reclaim public spaces that belong to them as much as men.

By Puran Choudhary , 29 Mar 2023

As the night falls, a group of women between the age of 20 to 45 years meet in a Bengaluru neighbourhood to do something that they would never dare to on their own: walk, in order to get rid of the fear of being out alone after dusk in India.

The walk was conceived after being inspired by the events in Delhi after the gruesome Nirbhaya rape case that shook the entire nation in December 2012.

Priya V, who is a Bengaluru based mental health practitioner organises these walks. She started out in November, 2022 and since then has been conducting walks for women on a monthly basis.

Priya says these walks are exciting and exhilarating. “The idea of being able to walk at night. Noticing things in the neighbourhoods that you otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to see during the day time,” she smiles and says that the night has its own charm.

Wearing comfortable-clothes, sports shoes and carrying water, food, the group gathers in different parts of the IT capital to reclaim their rights over the night. So far the group has explored four areas in the city; Malleswaram, Jayanagar, Basavangudi and the latest one being Koramangala.

The latest walk was different compared to the other residential areas. A stroll through Koramangala on a weekend night typically involves navigating through the area’s vibrant nightlife scene. However, this one was through the quieter corners of this bustling neighbourhood, a Koramangala that is fast asleep. The streets were deserted and peaceful.

Despite being located in the heart of the city, this particular section of Koramangala remains largely unexplored, with its hidden alleys and unassuming street corners bathed in the soft glow of streetlights.

As the group makes its way into the night, the distant hum of tiny insects add to the ambiance, women smile, laugh and share their lived experiences with each other while walking down streets that take you on a journey of your own.

Bhavna who helps Priya organise these walks adds that stepping out in the night is much more personal for her.

“I think it’s time in some sense for me to step out this late and be able to be in a place that is home to me.” Since the walks started, many things have changed for Bhavna, “We started going on walks in places that I would initially hesitate to go or feel unsafe in” now she feels confident and likes the idea of exploring the corners of Bengaluru in the moonlight.

Another fellow walker shares her experience and compares the IT capital to the national capital and what reclaiming public spaces means to her as a female.

“I have studied in Delhi and have often felt unsafe there. When we would go out for events and while returning it was always a hassle. We had to keep safety in mind. Even with five people with you, one still felt threatened” Anjala explains.

Fascinated by the idea of women walking in the night, this was Anjala’s first experience. “Often when you go to a public place you feel like you don’t belong because of all the gawking and eyeballs on you. Today we are walking at night, it feels so safe” she voices.

Vanshika Gupta, another participant, currently pursuing her MA in Development from Azim Premji University in the city believes that such initiatives will help women own their space in society.

Quite excited about sauntering into the night she also feels the idea is liberating. “Initially I had a thought in my head that I am feeling safe only because we are walking together (in a group). Tomorrow will I be able to take the same path at night alone?”

When asked if she found any other woman apart from the group walking down the lanes Vanshika replies saying, “Sadly no, there were no women on the streets. While I saw men hanging out not just in corners but also the main roads, smoking and enjoying their Saturday night, women were amiss in the midnight.”

Vanshika wishes that this becomes a movement of sorts,“where one day you’ll casually find women post midnight, strolling and enjoying the night bliss like it’s a normal thing.”

A Reality Check For Women

Nearly 31,000 complaints were received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) in 2022 of crimes that were committed against women.

According to the NCW data accessed by PTI, the maximum of 9,710 cases were related to the right to live with dignity that takes into account the emotional abuse of women. When it comes to domestic violence 6,970 cases were registered and 4,600 for dowry harassment were recorded. 1,701 were also related to rape and attempt to rape charges.

When we talk about Karnataka, the state saw at least 15 women filing complaints of molestation and outrage of modesty on an average, every day. In 2022 alone more than 5,800 such cases were registered across districts.

According to Karnataka Police in 2022, 1,877 cases of molestation and outrage of modesty were in public places, and 973 in private places. Nine of these cases were also reported from public transportation.

When an analysis of the last five years was done the data revealed that the total number of crimes against women has increased and breached the pre-pandemic levels.

Anjala on the other hand wishes for brighter nights for women and says that, “I don’t want to think twice before stepping out. Just the idea that I can go out whenever I want is something I wish would happen in the near future.”

‘Women Walk At Midnight’: An Initiative

Organising women’s walks at night is not a new phenomena. In fact most cities have in some way explored the idea.

‘Women Walk At Midnight’ is a group that organises walks for women across Delhi to give them a chance to feel safe in public spaces at night. In the past certain government departments in different states have adopted the idea and organised walks for women in the night.

Another participant during the Bengaluru walk shares that, “I want to tell the younger generation that you shouldn’t be scared. Go ahead and do what you feel like. These walks are a way to experience that nothing can hold you back.”

After a two and half an hour walk that concluded the night for women on streets, Bhavna says that she’d want to see more women joining the midnight strolls. “We’d like to see more young people and especially teenagers join us. It’s important for them to see and know that it’s okay to be on the streets.”

She also highlighted that these ‘Walks’ can change the mentalities of parents and that they can also come explore Bangalore as well as themselves while taking a long leisure stroll.