Demand Nirbhaya—Fearless—Cities

Anumita Roychowdhury, Dehli.  6 Mar, 2013

Catalysing safe design for public spaces should be among the top priorities to make cities safe for women, children and elderly

I first let this pass without comment—the Rs 1,000 crore Nirbhaya fund for women’s safety proposed in the Union Bdget.  Many have glossed over this with a reverent salute to quickly move on to the hard numbers of this stark accounting document. Others are angry, outraged, and dismissive of this fund as tokenism and populism with no clarity of mandate. But I read that paragraph in the budget speech once again.

My attention was riveted to this observation: “As more women enter public spaces—for education or work or access to services or leisure—there are more reports of violence against them.” The operative word here is “public spaces”.  Of course, Chidambaram has used this literally to state the obvious. But if we were to join the dots to write the terms of reference for the ministry of women and child development and other ministries to define the scope and structure of the ‘Nirbhaya fund’, then catalysing safe design for “public spaces” would be among the top priorities.

Put your ear to the global buzz on urban planning and design to know that “a public realm for the people” is the new mantra to keep all safe and secure in a city. Will India ever include this agenda in the “collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women” – as preached in the budget speech? The high decibel, high-powered meetings on gender safety that had boiled over immediately after the December 16 gang rape case in Delhi looked narrowly at the state’s responsibility only as installing safety gadgets in buses and revamping police surveillance.

Very few have understood the value of the principle that seeks to revitalize cities to bring people to “public spaces” by design to keep an eye on streets and buildings. For centuries, we have designed our cities in this way; but we went off the track when history collided with cars. We are no longer designing our cities on human scale to foster human contact, mingling spaces, meeting points that make all safe and happy. But macho cars have muscled in a change in urban design that isolates, and creates lonely distances, unsafe fringes, and dehumanised spaces that foster crime.

* Full article at

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About the author:

Anumita Roychowdhury is associate director at Centre for Science and Environment headquartered in New Delhi. She coordinates Policy Research and Advocacy on vehicular pollution in India for the “Centre for Science and Environment” (CSE), New Delhi, India. She has helped build policy campaigns which include phasing in of CNG program in Delhi; advancing implementation of improved fuel quality norms and emissions standards in Delhi; and promoting fiscal policies to improve technology, and awareness campaign on fuel adulteration in Delhi.

She co-authored the book “Slow Murder: The Deadly Story of Vehicular Pollution in India” and has contributed to the series on Citizens Report on the State of India’s Environment.

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About the editor:

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