United in their sleep, the women had a purpose. On the fifth anniversary of the brutal gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in December 2012, the women were among 22 collectives across India that had gathered to assert their right to public space. Sleeping together in the bright light of day, the group confronted the feeling of vulnerability familiar to any woman in India, replacing fear with a sense of connection and pride.
“We want to create space to fight sexual violence, but also move from fear toward a sense of trust and belonging,” explains Jasmeen Patheja, founder of Blank Noise, a global volunteer-led collective which develops strategies to eradicate gender-based and sexualized violence. One of the collective’s projects, Meet To Sleep, encourages participants, whom she calls “action heroes,” to shift the fear-based relationship women have with their cities by taking a nap together in public parks.
This kind of independence is not without risks in a country that has seen sexual violence escalate in recent years. Seventy-nine percent of women in India report experiencing sexual harassment in public, according to a 2016 survey by ActionAid UK, a non-profit focused on lifting women and girls out of poverty. Reported crimes against Indian women, meanwhile, have increased 34 percent in the past four years according to recent statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau. But recently, thanks to a wave of bold activism dedicated to reclaiming public space, women are gaining the confidence to explore their cities.
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