Tuesday, April 18, 2006

ABSTRACTS: Engendering Urban Public Space

Engendering Urban Public Space
Round Table Conference Organised by the PUKAR Gender & Space Project
ABSTRACTS

Inside-Outside: Violence and the Urban Middle Class Woman in India
Diya Mehra
This paper is a frame for my doctoral project, which is an attempt to explore the gendered languages of the contemporary urban through the everyday histories of one Delhi neighborhood. The dissertation begins in the aftermath of colonialism, with the neighborhood’s inception as a resettlement colony for post-Partition refugees in 1947.
In trying to begin to write a post-Independence history of urban women, and of space from a gendered perspective, I turn to the work of colonial historians who provide us with one historical model for urban gender relations. Specifically, it is argued, that in the nationalist attempt to ensure the preservation of ‘Easterness’ amidst the onslaughts of Western modernity, middle class women came to be seen as the new repository of indigenous values and were to cultivate a new sensibility and demeanor to this effect – one that was centered on modern domesticity, chastity, self-sacrifice and the ‘labors’ of love. Once achieved, women could finally be mobile in the outer/material domain of the city, which the nationalists envisioned as a male prerogative, open to the Western sciences of economy, politics and technology – protected as they were by a differential subjectivity.
This paper asks – what is the relevance of this project of mobile domestication in postcolonial, urban India? Is it present as an ever-expanding hegemonic form? How has it been affected by the presence of large numbers of women in the workforce and in urban space? And how does it relate to the specter of violence that surrounds the increased mobility of the urban, Indian woman? This paper will explore these issues in the context of the scholarly postcolonial literature to assess the salience of the colonial model, and from this, to think about the ways by which a post-Independence gendered history of the city can be constructed.


The Class of Safety: Gendering Locality in Mumbai
Shilpa Phadke
This paper is located in urban 21st century Mumbai and comes out of the research on the Gender & Space project at PUKAR. It begins by laying out the city’s notion of itself as a global mega city. This notion in premised on the exclusion of various people defined as outsiders in different ways. Access to public space I suggest is an important indicator of citizenship.
The paper examines how class influences the understanding of localities in Mumbai as safe-unsafe. It examines the central position of middle class women in defining spaces and drawing hierarchies.
I argue that city spaces and class are constituted in critical ways through gender. I examine not just how women’s class impacts on their safety but also how women’s presence and absence and habitus impacts on a locality.


Shiv Sena Women in Public: Gender, Performance and the Politics of ‘Visibility’ in Mumbai
Tarini Bedi
This paper grows out of the rising interest in the role that visual cultures play in the expression of the political in India (Hansen 2001; Rajagopal 2001). My suggestion is that there is a significant conjunction between the engagement with visual events as they play out in urban space and the constitution of the gendered selves of those who are members of political organizations. By focusing on the visual politics of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, I suggest that Shiv Sena women in particular have adopted a skillful negotiation of the public sphere through everyday visual and performative strategies that get expressed at the local level of neighborhood, municipal ward, school, and market in urban Maharashtra. I argue that the politics of visibility and the visual nature of politics are critical in the constitution of the “dashing” gendered subject just as much as they serve the practical need of building political alliances through and between women. This paper presentation will use visual photographic data from a number of these everyday events along with ethnographic data collected from Sena women to show how personal stories of political ‘awakening’ are deeply embedded in the visual performances and urban imaginaries that frame them.


Bhendi Bazaar to Bandra: Some Observations on Muslim Women & Public Space in Mumbai
Sameera Khan
This paper attempts to examine gender and space in the context of community. How does being a member of a particular religious minority community impact a woman’s access and experience of the public? More specifically, in what ways and to what extent do Muslim women access and exploit public space and the public sphere in Mumbai and what aids and hinders their full participation in it.
How do they negotiate with their families and communities in order to gain entry in to the world outside their home? How do they deal with concerns of safety and comfort? Does observing hijab or the veil give certain Muslim women improved accessibility or does it withdraw them even more in to the private sphere?
It is my contention that Muslim women, even in Mumbai, cannot be considered to be a single monolithic category. Differences in sects, class and locality play an important role in determining their right to be in public. More critically, the spectre of communal violence has led to increased ghettoization of Muslims in Mumbai and this has serious implications on Muslim women’s mobility and their negotiation of the public.
This paper is a work in progress and has been researched under the PUKAR Gender & Space Project, Mumbai


Urban Resettlement: Impact on Women’s mobility and access to space
Qudsiya Contractor
Involuntary resettlement refers to the relocation of a whole community/settlement as part of a development project or due to the risk of some natural calamity. Development related displacement has in recent times become of concern and also attracted much controversy. A large number of people living in slums are affected due to such change. They happen to form the city’s most vulnerable and marginalised groups and find very little or almost no role in the processed involved.
This paper is based on a study conducted by CEHAT in a slum in Mumbai recently having been resettled to a different location across the city much far from its original locality. It speaks of the daily life experiences of women in the resettlement colony. The resettlement process has affected each and everyone belonging to this community across age and gender. However, it has affected men and women differently. Women have had to bear the socio-economic consequences of the resettlement much more than the men have. Another reason is the very fact that the whole resettlement process seems to have overlooked the very aspects linked directly to women’s lives such as education, health care, changes in social processes associated with the resettlement and other very intangible changes such as feelings of uprootment, loss of identity and the loss of a sense of belonging to their original place of living.
Women experience the most intense changes in their everyday lives as a result of resettlement. The resettlement has also redefined the social control of spaces with a change in the physical nature of dwelling. This has had a remarkable impact on women’s realisation of basic survival needs owing to a change in mobility patterns. A rigid divide between public and private spheres prove disadvantageous to women coming from socio-economically deprived communities. They cope with the harsh living conditions by sharing their difficulties and tasks among each other. Spaces in slums accessible to women are difficult to demarcate as public or private. These form the settings for women's collective activities, and became the locus for women's social interaction, networking, self-identity, and community-based identity. The new living environment has offered them a physical structure very different from their communal living practice. This has deprived women of their immediate social security network. Leaving the ‘community’ to decide the use of public and open spaces has lead to men and the regressive elements within them such as religious hardliners to take over, leaving women with no room to claim these spaces. All the community welfare centres leaving one being used as mosques stands evidence to this. Creating or claiming ones own spaces is a matter of insisting that citizenship is a daily practice collectively built through the active and conscientious habitation of space. With public spaces dominated with men, restricted mobility not only impacts women’s access to education, work, opportunities to socialise and recreation but also their entitlements as equal members of a community.
This paper attempts to highlight the hardships the community in general and women in particular face after the resettlement.


Dynamics of Gender and Space in the Informal Sector:
A case study of Okhla Assembly Constituency, Delhi.
Aheli Chowdhury and Rukmini Barua
This paper will be centered around our research conducted on the informal economy in Jamia Nagar, an assembly constituency of Delhi. We will attempt to interrogate, using the example of the informal economy, the issues of gender, space and participation.
We have ordered the paper around four main research questions:
1. How is the issue of gender and exploitation articulated in urban space? How is the legal and social status of the occupation implicated in the access to public spaces of their work ?
We will explore these aspects within the domain of informal labour. A major segment (92 percent or more) of the Indian working class labours under the short-term informal contracts. Our research indicates that a large number of women are engaged in the informal sector. Of the four occupations that we studied, waste pickers and casual labourers engage the maximum number of women workers. Therefore, for the purpose of this paper, we shall examine these two occupations at length.
Casual labourers may be employed either through the casual labour market or be enlisted for work by contractors independent of the labour market. Casual labour markets(CLM) can be defined as squares where daily wage job seekers gather in the morning and wait for prospective buyers of their labour power. The buyers may be petty contractors or direct employers. (more often the buyers are direct employers) The laborers compete among themselves to offer the lowest supply price of their labour power. They are hired for a day's work or for a few days work. This entire process closely resembles the buying and selling that takes place in any commodity market. These public spaces are highly gendered in orientation. Almost no women gather at the CLMs, and the trend has been such for about 10 years. The very few who do, come early in the morning.
Almost all women daily wage labourers in Jamia Nagar are employed with contractors. Contractors usually recruit workers from his or near by villages. This ensures work for both spouses for a guaranteed period of time. The contractor also provides ‘ housing’ to his workers, which are generally jhuggis built at the construction site. Most contractors, however, are loath to employ women, because of their commitments as mothers or wives. The work site more often than not, doubles up as a day care for the children of the women workers. Most women, work as ‘beldars’ (assistants) and are paid considerably less than the men. While men, earn around Rs. 100-120, for a days work, women get paid about Rs. 70.
The public space of the casual labour market is closed to women workers; mainly because selling their labour at the CLM does not assure employment with their spouses, which they prefer, and secondly, because the space of the CLM is oriented as such that it excludes women.
How is the question of gender and violence enacted in urban spaces?
This issue can be explained with greater clarity in the context of waste pickers.
By law, waste picking in Delhi, by any agency other than the MCD is illegal. Most rag pickers in this area are alleged to be Bangladeshi immigrants. The insubordination that their occupation entails, coupled with their political vulnerability of being alleged illegal immigrants, serve to make them a “super low caste”. Women within this occupation are even more susceptible to harassment and violence. Though there is some parity of employment and wages between the sexes, women are still often allotted the less paying work.
Since the legality of waste picking, as well as the citizen status of the waste pickers are suspect, they do not have legal access to the public spaces of the city, for their work. Entry to the city’s garbage dumps are allowed only when regular informal fees are paid to the MCD staff.
The spatial orientation of the slum in which our study was conducted, is highly unfriendly towards women. The construction of the houses, as well as the lack of sanitation facilities poses a great risk to the women residents. The proximity of the jhuggis, makes sexual abuse a very common occurrence. The imbalance in the male- female ratio, leads to a high incidence of multiple marriages, desertion and crimes against female children. The theme of masculinity which was resonant through out the study, is significantly implicated, not only in the quality of the work women do, but also in their wages, in the orientation of their spaces of work, as well as in the harassment, exploitation and violence they face.
3. Do the women engaged in the occupations we studied, have access to public services? How does the work they do and their citizenship status , affect their access to hospitals, schools and the legal machinery?
Our research suggests that women in the informal sector have limited access to government health care services as well as the legal system. How they negotiate their position in society and to what extent they have access to spaces of public service, form our third major concern.
How are the limits of the spaces of work enforced and who controls these boundaries?
We intend to explore the dynamics of control that men exercise over women’s lives and examine how this influences their choice of work and shapes their identity.
The methodology followed for this study is primarily qualitative. We collected 72 testimonies from both men and women workers. It was important to engage with both men and women, because constructions of masculinity and femininity often influence the way spaces are ordered.
Well researched and detailed suggestions for advocacy will be highlighted in the paper. We intend to initiate some modest schemes in the area of our study, which will benefit the workers and their families.


Examining Safety for Women in Public Places in Delhi
Kalpana Viswanath & Surabhi Tandon Mehrotra
Delhi has the dubious distinction of being the most unsafe city in India from the perspective of women’s safety. Delhi has the highest share of reported crimes against women and is widely perceived to be unsafe at an everyday level. In response to this and as part of our ongoing work addressing violence against women, Jagori has been examining the city and public spaces in order to understand the factors that make it unsafe in order to derive strategies for creating a safer city.
Based on METRAC’s concept of safety audits, Jagori conducted 22 audits in residential areas, market places, commercial complexes, university campus, railway and metro stations. Some of them were undertaken in partnership with members of the community, community organizations and local RWAs. A safety audit focuses on infrastructure and how women feel in public spaces. During the audits we took note of the infrastructure, such as lighting, pavements, parks, signage, bus stops, public toilets, car parking areas, garbage dumps, vacant and demolished plots, debris dumps, alleys, dark corners, the location of police booths, public telephones, shops, and the presence of street vendors. We also spoke with women about their perceptions of feeling safe/ unsafe/ uncomfortable in these spaces.
What makes cities unsafe?
Many of the factors that make Delhi unsafe for women are common to other cities as well. A poor urban environment - dark or badly lighted streets, derelict parks, badly maintained public spaces, inadequate signage, lack of public toilets.
- Empty streets at night because of early closing of shops and businesses; residential, commercial and slums are often distantly located; long stretches of isolated roads; and lack of a tradition of street life.
- Poor public transport and rude/unhelpful/abusive behaviour of bus drivers and conductors.
- Insufficient presence and unresponsive/aggressive attitudes of police and civic authorities.
- Isolation from neighbours and lack of community life.
- Ideas and beliefs about appropriate behaviour, leading to reluctance to protest in cases of public violence.
- A ‘macho’ culture and a lack of respect for women and women’s rights, leading to cases of violence being ignored or trivialised by the general public as well as those in positions of authority.
In order to address the issues, we need to have a broad based strategy that reaches out not only to the administration and the police, but also to the wider society to be accountable, to be responsible for the culture and ethos of the space they live and work in. We strongly believe that the issue of safety cannot be addressed only by the police because it is not only a law and order problem. The problem is also the culture of the city that is aggressive and often indifferent to problems of all vulnerable groups of people.
The presentation will focus on the issues that have come up during the safety audits and the strategies that Jagori is working on take forward a campaign on making Delhi a safer city.


Mapping Everyday Gender-Space: Discussion of a method
Shilpa Ranade
Taking as its basis the theoretical premises of a) the “constructedness” of both gender and space and b) the idea of gender-space as being in the constant state of becoming, the Gender and Space project undertook an exercise of mapping certain public spaces in Mumbai. The idea was to examine the everyday practice of gendered public space through documenting and representing public spaces through drawings. In this paper I discuss some of the methodological challenges that were faced during the study dwelling on the limitations of the traditional models of spatial representation. This is followed by a brief discussion of one public space mapped in the process.


Constructing the Metropolis: The Poetics of Masculinity in an Urdu Mushaira
Nathan Tabor
The Urdu mushaira is a public poetry gathering where (usually) male poets recite from their original compositions on themes of love, eroticism, humor, parody, social critique and communal harmony. As reflected in the mushaira, the history of Urdu poetry in general has been closely allied with the theme of the destruction of cities. When recited, this poetry premises the devastation of the metropolis while at the same time singing the urban realm’s praises. In doing so, the contemporary Urdu mushaira spatially negotiates the city, mapping the contemporary social world onto a timeless, epic and aestheticized realm. In their recitations, poets parody anxiety-provoking social topics such as political breakdown, communal violence, and social discord, while eulogizing their hopes for the attainment of a democratic, multi-cultural and urban utopia. Based on a mushaira held at the Lucknow Mahotsav on December 3, 2005, which I recorded and transcribed as part of my doctoral research, this paper will examine how the voices of poets construct specific urban landscapes in this mushaira, questioning how these spaces are gendered and the effects of this gendering. I argue that in contrast to the prophetic, sacred and masculinized poetic voice, the city which it describes is coded as a perverse and excessive realm. This is accomplished through imagery such as blood lapping at the doors of apartments, falling gates of the mosque and politicians setting the city ablaze “just to get a little light.” By looking at the types of urban landscapes constructed by these poetic voices, I hope to show how the mushaira itself is an urban masculine public space in which anxious and violent utopic dreams are constructed and then dashed away.


The Classical Dancer and Ideas of Modern Womanhood
Nithya Raman
The sadir dancer, also called the devadasi or the nithya sumangali, associated with a village temple pushed at the margins of the role of> woman in society. She was married to the deity, but she was also a householder—she took men as her lovers, often for long periods, and she had children with them. Just like the male priests, she too served as a conduit between devotees and God. She directly addressed god in her dances, always with great devotion and love, but the tone would vary. She could be casual, dismissive, scornful, questioning, angry, or sassy, but she was always familiar with him. By her very presence outside the traditional role of woman as wife, by sharing a performance space with male musicians and performing the same> functions as a male priest, and taking such liberties with a god that most people held in distant awe, the temple dancer pushed at the margins of the roles assigned to women in that society. Yet she did that in typically "feminine" terms. Tropes in dances show her getting dressed beautifully, flirting and inviting the god into her bedroom, gossiping and expressing her jealousy of the other women in the god's life. Essentially, the dancer used to depict a complex vision of womanhood, not only in her performances but in her very lifestyle. Modern day performances and modern day dancers of what is now called Bharata Natyam tend to be very different from this. While many dances continue to directly address god, they tend to be purely bhakti or devotion based, without the complicated nuances or power games of a sringara or love relationship with the divine. With a handful of exceptions, Bharata Natyam dancers are not overtly erotic, although they remain very feminine. The presentation of the dance has also changed a lot in its movement from the temple to the stage: musicians were moved to the side, the sari was changed to a pants costume, and the flowers became fake. The makeup became thicker to adapt to stage lighting, making the dancer look like she is wearing a mask. It is this external aspect that has become most central to outside perceptions of dance and the aspirations of many students—the look of the "traditional" Indian classical dancer, who is now divorced from many of the elements which gave her role a subversive power. Finally, dancing is no longer a livelihood for the majority of dancers. Most rely on family money to survive or make their money by other means.
What was once an inherently complex presentation of gender and gender relationships—a woman being the only one who could speak in that casual, personalized, and often disparaging way about God—now has become flattened, so to speak. Femininity is still important in the dance, but not sexuality, and certainly not to be used as a source of power over god. Rather dancers are meant to be beautiful but pure receptacles of devotion. They are passive, costumed, bejeweled, masked, a bhajan brought to life. While this does not excuse the patriarchal systems which may have supported the earlier system of temple dancers, there is something sad about that level of complexity being lost. What does it mean that another public space, that of the stage, is lost to a flat and superficial rendering of womanhood? What messages does the image of the modern Bharata Natyam dancer hold? The presentation will use a series of photographs and translations of the poetry used for dance to explicate the changes between the sadir dancer and the Bharata Natyam dancer, and will try and highlight what these changes may mean for modern women.


Explorations of Gender and Space in the Blank Noise project
Jasmeen P and Chinmayee Manjunath
Blank: that which cannot emerge, has no voice, has no form.
Noise: that which breaks form, builds, heightens, bursts.
The Blank Noise Approach:
Eve teasing translates itself as a joke, or a prank.
Eve teasing has to be given the status of an issue; be recognized as a sexual crime, be revealed as street sexual harassment through a public definition.
Blank Noise proposes to conduct a series of campaigns, involving the public(perpetrator, spectator, victim) , the media ( mainstream and alternative) and proposes to direct it at policy change.

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