Andheri Safety Sprawl: Mobilizing for Change
Imagine a society where 50% of the people on the street are women, where girls feel confident riding public transportation at all hours, and where people of all ages, genders and backgrounds loiter on street corners, parks and other public spaces. Here, women feel safe outside their homes, and more easily and actively participate in economic, social, political, and cultural institutions. By freely loitering outside, women thwart societal narratives of women’s ‘proper’ place in the home.
Working towards this vision, last week Badal Ja! partnered with SafeCity to host an Anderi Safety Sprawl – a fun, community-driven scavenger hunt of broken streetlights, sexual harrassment and overall safety indicators on 10 streets in Andheri. The goal of the event was to empower everyday citizens to make their neighborhood a safer place.
After just a few hours together, the 25 volunteers compiled information about street lighting, road conditions, and sexual harassment through a simple and interactive audit. We learned how to raise awareness at the community level about key safety issues, submitted complaints to the BMC, and spread our impressions of safety on these streets via social media. Impressively, within 24 hours of the event, 14 broken streetlights on one street were fixed by Reliance Energy!
Safety Sprawls – or community safety audits – can be conducted by any organization or group of concerned citizens. Below, we’re delighted to share the process and tools that we used. Feel free to use them, adapt them, and share your stories with us! Together, we can build a safer society, neighborhood by neighborhood.
Step 1: Break the ice.
Since most of the volunteers who came to the safety audit didn’t know one another, we launched the event with an icebreaker exercise that helped people get to know each other, and to brainstorm about the topic at hand.
The ice breaker game we chose is called “Two Extremes” – a fabulous and simple activity that gets people up and moving and sharing their preferences and perspectives about different elements of safety. To play, simply create an imaginary line from one end of a room/space to the other. Then tell participants that you will read a series of statements. If they completely disagree, they should move to the left end of the line, if they completely agree they should move to the right side, and if they don’t have a strong opinion, they should stand in the middle. Once everyone has chosen a position, participants can discuss and defend their stance, opening up meaningful dialogue and feisty debate.
We started out with some silly prompts to get people laughing, then moved into more serious points about safety.
- It is more important to be rich than to be attractive.
- Tendulkar has done more for Indian cricket than Dhoni.
- If you get groped in public in Andheri the afternoon, you should punch or hit the aggressor.
- Mumbai is a very safe city for women to walk around.
- Women should be allowed to walk around the city in bikinis, if they want to.
- Women’s compartments on trains help improve women’s safety.
- Until there are enough public toilets, women should be able to pee in public.
- The city of Mumbai should mandate that 50% of police officers in the city must be female.
Step 2: Take on the streets.
Next, split your team into groups of 2 people. You can do groups of more than 2 people, especially if the neighborhood you’re auditing is unsafe. However, the groups will be conducting interviews with the people they meet in the streets, and sometime a large group can be intimidating.
It’s also really helpful to pair diverse people together: people of different genders, occupations, generations, etc – as people from different walks of life often experience the same area in very different ways.
Assign each pair to a street or area that will take about 1 hour to slowly walk through. Make sure to prepare and print maps ahead of time to help people reach and navigate these streets. Participants should be able to mark up the map with their insights as they go along.
Finally, give each pair an audit form to fill out. The audit form we used is here.
As you can see on the form, we asked people to look at three things:
- Lights: Noting the ID number of the street lamps that were broken or covered, as well as the overall presence and effectiveness of the lights
- Space: Observing the number and kinds of people that were out on the streets, the quality of the road, the presence of clear and safe walkways, etc.
- Harassment: Talking to people on the street, our auditors inquired about instances of different kinds of harassment – from staring to stalking to physical assault. They also asked people about their feelings and observations of safety in general in that area.
Before sending participants out on the streets, go through the form with them and make sure to clarify any questions or doubts. Some people may raise feelings of discomfort with interviewing strangers, so it’s important to address those concerns. You can do this through role playing out potential scenarios and pairing people who are less comfortable with others who feel more confident.
Step 3: Empower citizens to discuss and report their findings
Make sure everyone knows where and when to meet once they have finished their audit. Once everyone has gathered together, go around the group and ask people to share their major observations, as well as something that they learned or that surprised them.
During our discussion, many people discussed similar experiences and findings, such as:
- Safety means different things to different people: People often defined a space as safe, but could simultaneously list instances of harassment and robbery in the area. Others reported an area as very safe, even though there were always men staring, or only before a particular hour.
- People experience the same space in different ways: Often times, men would report that a street was incredibly safe, while women felt unsafe. Younger women often felt safer than older women – often because older women had a longer history of bad experiences in that space.
- Lighting is a critical part of safety: Many of the street lights hung over the street, rather than the sidewalk. This made people walk on the street instead of the sidewalk, as they felt much safer walking in a well-lit place.
- Many people don’t take systematic action when they feel unsafe: Rather than call the police or any other administrative body, many people simply avoided areas when they felt unsafe, or tried to ignore the issues.
Once the discussion was over, we then took the most important step of the audit: Giving people the tools to report problems and challenges they observed. For example, we provided people with the following numbers:
- National helpline for women: 1091
- National helpline for child safety: 1098
- BMC (to fix light and street issues): 1916
Because the complaints we raised to the BMC were resolved within 24 hours, people realized just how powerful a simple call can be.
People also learned about Advanced Locality Management groups: small, local citizen committees that hold the BMC responsible and help bring individual issues to the attention of the police. Your building manager can help you connect to your Advanced Locality Management.
Step 4: Follow up
After the safety audit is complete, compile all the findings and submit the report to the local police.
Form a Whatsapp group, a Facebook group, or some association to let everyone stay in touch. Then, have people follow up on the complaints they submitted with the relevant authorities, and share these experiences with the group.
Make sure to celebrate when improvements are made!!
To read more about our Safety Sprawl, check out these great write-ups: