Taking back the city

This leads to a second observation that links the demand for freedom to a demand for greater democracy. The protests have been fuelled by a recognition that this crime was not just an arbitrary act of brutal patriarchal violence, but also a symptom of a state that has failed its citizens. Cities throughout the world can be dangerous places, but the indifference and venality with which the political class treats the Indian city has made urban life especially precarious and insecure. Inadequate investment in public transportation not only congests the city, but gives rise to the kinds of unregulated bus service that was the site of the attack. Citizens often see the police as more foe than servant, more preoccupied with protecting VIPs and hastening their movement through the city than serving citizens. Across the city, men urinate in public even as women are denied public facilities. The failures of planning and public provisioning that have made housing precarious for the lower and middle classes have provided opportunities for politicians and developers to collude in the great land grab. So even as the city in India has become a place of dynamism and aspiration, the lack of responsive governance and inclusion have fuelled a wide range of insecurities.

The movement has already succeeded in starting a public conversation, the first step towards changing gender norms. Whether or not it can translate this discursive moment into institutional change will of course depend on how parties and the state respond. But in its anger and

demands, it has already raised the stakes. As the great sociologist Charles Tilly has argued, all progressive social movements pose the fundamental question, "do sovereignty and its accumulated wisdom lie in the legislature, or in the people it claims to represent?" The state's clumsy response to the protests (closing subways, charging protesters) and politicians' pathetic efforts to deflect attention from the root causes of the tragedy say much about where the wisdom lies. As for the movement, it has redeemed sovereignty, not only by asserting women's rights to freedom, but the rights of all citizens to take back their city.

... contd.

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