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Editorial: Public Space and Sexuality

a colourful abstract pattern - mxiture of blue, yellow, orange and green

Parks, streets, railway stations, shopping malls, open air village markets (haats), the Internet. All of these and many others are public spaces that intersect with and offer us smaller or larger zones of private spaces. Are they even distinct any more, now that one can, with a tiny webcam, broadcast the most ‘private’ to anyone who cares to watch? What happens to our personal boundaries in these ever-expanding and ever-shrinking spaces? Do we find ourselves stretching languorously in some and curling into tight little balls of fear and shame in others? To answer some of these questions, let’s get started with Sneha Krishnan who concisely shows us how notions of the public and private pose questions for a feminist politics and how practices of sex in public invert popular ideas about pleasure, risk and danger.

As soon as we think of danger, our mind seeks the opposite – safety. What constitutes safety in public spaces? Are there any criteria for and ways to make public spaces safer?  Kalpana Viswanath in an interview with Shikha Aleya, not only literally walks us through them but also offers us a handy app to navigate public spaces safely. For our Hindi readers, we have the translation of an older interview by Shikha Aleya with Shilpa Phadke, where Shilpa talks about her concern of how women’s, and for that matter, all marginalised people’s freedom to access public spaces is compromised in the name of safety and ‘for their own good’. Both Kalpana and Shilpa offer us their vision of occupying space, claiming space and claiming our rights.

It’s always the outliers who have to claim rights. For everyone else it is just taken for granted. Like there are toilets for men and toilets for women. Of course, you say. But Smita Vanniyar asks, what happens when you don’t look the way you are ‘supposed’ to? Where do you go, when you gotta go? Are public spaces for all of the public or only for those who fit certain boxes?

Anannya Chatterjee questions if all ‘public’ displays of affection are consensual and examines her own experiences with sex in public spaces. Another outlier, Asmi, writes about why she came out as a kinkster in public and what it means for her. And Ajay Maherchandani reviews akshay khanna’s book Sexualness, that brings us an interesting new way of looking at the sexual in public and private.

In the Video Corner watch what happens when something taken out of context goes into the public and in the Media Corner watch what happens when a woman defies a norm as irrational as one that forbids women to drive! In Brushstrokes we feature an illustrated story about finding a safe space to be who one is. And in the FAQ Corner, we come back full circle to how to make our cities safer for women.

In our mid-month issue Shilpa Phadke brings us an interesting mix of ideas woven from narratives of pleasure, danger, and resistance, among others, with regard to the digital streets of online spaces, and explores the conditions of possibility that will allow us to have fun in the online public space that is the Internet.

We have two articles for our Hindi readers. One is the translation of Sneha Krishnan’s article published earlier this month about notions of the public and private posing questions for a feminist politics, and the other is a translation of Swapna Vasudevan Thampi’s article about women facing harassment on their daily commute.

Read in the blogroll section about how women are reclaiming public spaces, be it by midnight runs through city streets, hanging around in parks, or simply loitering; how students across the country are trying to create more inclusive educational institutions; expanding safe spaces for queer people that cater to their plural identities; and about how  hurts and hearts may be healed in the ladies compartment of a Bombay local train.

Happy loitering!

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