For decades the people of Dal Lake, its houseboat community and wider Srinagar inhabitants, have been witness to many of their lakes becoming polluted beyond repair. Now, Dal Lake is on the brink of an environmental disaster with huge economic, social, cultural and ecological repercussions that not only threaten the prevailing way of life for the local community, but also foreshadows the demise of natural habitats across India and worldwide.
I have always loved travelling: exploring new places, experiencing new cultures and meeting new and wonderful people. For me, travelling on my own heightens my experiences of these new places, cultures and people. That is why I am currently planning a road trip in the USA. It will just be me, on my own, bumping into family and friends along the way. I want space not only to see new things and meet new people, but also have the space to make art. I feel like being alone in a new place with new cultures and people will help me make that art.
However, whenever I plan such lone wolf trips my parents panic:
‘I don’t like you travelling on your own’
‘It’s not safe… Especially at night in a strange country as a woman’
To be fair it is not unusual for parents to be concerned of their child’s welfare and safety. It is human nature and a caring instinct for many parents. But it is that last comment that stabs anger into the back of my head every single time it is mentioned…
…‘As a woman’.
This anger has got me wondering a lot of things…
If my brother decided to go travelling on his own, would they make similar concerns known to him? Now of course they would worry for his safety, but would they announce that these fears concern his sex, ‘as a man’? Their concerns would not even consider his gender, only that he is out on his own in a new place where they cannot protect him.
If I had not previously been sexually assaulted whilst on my own in a new place, would they voice their concerns about me as a woman out at night? They probably would. But maybe their worries would not anger me so or make me feel even more vulnerable as a woman, who has already experienced loss of control and power to a man, living in this world.
This gender bias is not something that is limited to lone wolf travellers exploring the globe. It is not just about being in a new place with new cultures and new people. We must remember that this worry and vulnerability is something many, if not most, women experience when travelling in their own country, town or even their own home.
This needs to change.
Travelling, and even simply living in your own home, should be safe for all – no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation and so on. Everyone has a right to feel free to move, to not have their paths blocked, and to not let societal expectations and roles define whether someone is too vulnerable or weak to choose to travel as a lone wolf. Everyone has the right to explore new places, experience new cultures and meet new people just as YOU and not as your gender.
I worry that the current state of our unstable world will hinder this possibility.
I know that this is all very idealistic. The world is a far cry from safe for anyone, anywhere at anytime. But we should not see lone wolf travellers as male and therefore inherently strong. Men can be weak and vulnerable too – let them be weak and vulnerable! Furthermore, let those seen as stereotypically vulnerable in society be seen as strong, travelling lone wolves too, even if they are just travelling on their own to their local shops!
Without accepting that women, and those seen as weak, should occupy and travel in space without fearing for their safety then we are letting them be tainted by the so-called vulnerability that society places on genders that aren’t solidly male, masculine or ‘normal’.
I want a time where I do not have to carry a rape safety whistle with me everywhere I go. I want a time where I do not have to pre-plan my route home, where I can wander in new places without constantly checking behind my back. I want a world where travelling on your own as a woman is not seen as a ‘lone travelling wolf, who also happens to be a woman’, but simply just a lone wolf travelling because of their love for places, cultures and people.
I will fight for this. I hope you too will join me in this fight and share your own views on this matter.
Occupying the space of an abandoned building to house social events or reclaiming an unused building and utilising it for your temporary living quarters, your residence. To squat. The term, act, and people (squatters) often has negative connotations attached and perpetuated by the media – lazy scroungers and dangerous hippies. However squatters holds more importance than these bias stereotypes. From bringing to light the extent of housing shortages within the city, to the wider urban struggle and nonconformative, anticapitalist movements, the counterculture of squatting has long been a tool for political protest and dissent.
In 1969 the London Street Commune (LSE) occupied 144 Piccadilly, a mansion house on Hyde Park Corner. Travellers, hippies, youths and the homeless began filling the multi-storey building, a make-shift drawbridge was erected to keep out the disagreeing community, and banners hung from balconies and windows. “ALL HOMELESS WELCOME”. Their original agenda? First of all to provide shelter for the homeless, but also to protest and challenge the contradiction between the lack of available housing and the many unused buildings dotted about the city.
Movements such as these have been, and still continue to be echoed all over Europe. They are seen as a strong force for change, not just for the homeless plight but for the wider disenfranchised community. Squatting highlights a much deeper and subversive agenda of resistance against the dominant hegemonic forces of neoliberalism.
Reciklaonica (literal translation: Slaughterhouse), based in Zagreb, Croatia, is an example of a squat that challenges the capitalist political system through creative resistance. It subverts the prescribed social norm of work, eat, sleep; of working to survive whilst the monopoly of multinational corporations reap in the benefits of their worker-slaves.
I first stumbled across this self-imposed, isolated community with my friend, Jean, as we were hitchhiking around Europe, camping or crashing at various kind strangers’ houses. I had stayed at a friend’s house the night before (Stan, a PhD Chemistry student met at Medika – an independent cultural and creative hub in Central Zagreb). In the morning he got in touch with some friends of his at Reciklaonica, to see if I could stay a night at their squat. They were happy to house us both for a night.
So we caught a tram across the city and landed outside a modern shopping mall. We passed through and walked into an abandoned complex of dilapidated industrial buildings. I felt as though i had suddenly stepped outside of the city. A forgotten land with overgrown grass and sprouting weeds surrounding concrete floors and small brick structures. Street art peered out the darkness behind broken walls until we came to a dirt track that ran down the side of the complex. In the distance I could see two figures, an average-sized male wielding an axe and a taller male dragging a basket with a much larger axe slung over his shoulder. We were heading towards each other with no one else around. Stan’s unflinching gait was the only thing to comfort the impending interraction as he continued unnervingly towards these two ominous strangers as if he knew them. He did know them. They were housemates of Reciklaonica.
We introduced ourselves and they very kindly told us to let ourselves into the building whilst they went out to collect firewood. Stan, having been there before, led the way past a door with the words Free Shop graffitied above, and around the corner to another steel door. To the right was a large wall painting of a guy I am told used to live here but has since passed away. The writing beside read ‘One Of Us’.
We continued through the door and up a flight of stairs, passing yet more paintings and slogans plastered across the walls. Upstairs was another door with a contraption made from a half-filled water bottle and a rope that fed through a hole in the door – its purpose was to give weight so the door would shut automatically after being opened – ingenious. Inside there was more art strewn creatively on every surface; homemade furniture and sculptures gleaned from scrap materials; stickers and slogans of activism and equality, freedom, anti-nazi, pro-feminism, anarchy, pro-life. The multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, preparation room, living area with a rooftop garden (accessible by crawling out of the window) boasted enough space for the seven or so hospitable housemates. In fact, after eating homemade pizza’s together that evening Jean and I shared a guest bedroom with about six double beds to choose from.
The first obvious sign of Reciklaonica’s resistant qualities is clearly the fact that they occupy this space illegally, choosing to live in a space for free and not pay any sort of tax to a government they don’t believe in. Within the neoliberal paradigm urban space is determined by its potential profitability, which means housing is given to those who will pay rent or tax. Here the housemates defy that rule simply by residing in an unused building to avoid paying tax.
Similarly, graffiti and street art is deemed illegal because of its inherent nature of being applied to any surface of the urban topography. Therefore it is very difficult for local councils to create capital from a subcultural movement that acts to avoid being commercialised. The community of Reciklaonica used this transgressive creative act like the wider street art culture does (or at least the origins of street art does), to express personal and collective desires through art.
Using street art, political or otherwise, to undermine the neoliberal appropriation of urban space (space reserved for practices that yield capital) is subverting the capitalist system as much as squatting itself is. Likewise, the FreeShop we walked past earlier, which allows anyone to take, leave, or swap items of clothing for necessary weather conditions, is also subversive. It is within these subversive acts that a resistant community is built.
Reciklaonica is not a community that aims highlight homelessness and a housing shortage like the LSC, however it is an autonomous community that tries to defy the neoliberal paradigm by acting against it in whichever way possible. Of course to resist the system in this manner may seem contradictory because Reciklaonica uses the products of the system, but it is by working within the system and against it that resistance begins, for it is arguably impossible to operate completely outside of capitalist system.