The Public Body: Individual Tactics and Activist Interventions on the Street in Delhi, India
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After a brutal and widely publicized gang rape in December 2012, women’s safety in public spaces has been a significant site of debate and discourse about Delhi as a city and India as a country. My Master’s thesis focuses on women’s negotiations of public spaces in Delhi, India. I explore how women in general—and activists in particular—shift Delhi’s public culture, in order to intervene in dominant discourses on women’s agency in India’s capital as well as the dismissive, alienating narratives of the city as hopelessly violent. Jagori, a Delhi-based women’s rights organization, sponsors “The Safe Delhi Campaign” to address the constraints on and challenges of women’s Delhi street experience with a focus on urban design, public transport, and raising public awareness. My project brings a Performance Studies perspective to Jagori’s goals, paying close attention to my interlocutors’ (university-aged female residents and Jagori activists) voices, bodies, and tactics. Fear and the anticipation of violence shapes when, where, and how female residents move through Delhi: the spatial and temporal safe, cautionary, and forbidden zones, bridged by acceptable forms of transportation, expose how fear fractures the map. I argue that my interlocutors are negotiating their own comfort against social expectations and the potential for violence in public. Female embodiment in rape cultures is marked by the anticipation of violence, where sexual assault indicates a failure to adhere to the preventative regime. That fearful embodiment manifests in the everyday practices of managing the dominant male street culture in Delhi. I explore protests post-Dec-12 as my interlocutors experienced them, arguing that some protests disrupt the normative Delhi public culture, creating a temporary atmosphere in which women can more freely move and express themselves, where that fear fades or disappears. Hopeful and future-oriented protests call for the women’s full access to public spaces without fear. From the everyday self-policing, restrictive tactics of female university students to activists occupying the streets in attention-grabbing protests, how Delhi’s women are responding to the threat of violence exposes the everyday lived reality, juxtaposed contradictions, and enduring potential of the capital city.
Liddell, Bridget C (2015). The Public Body: Individual Tactics and Activist Interventions on the Street in Delhi, India. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from