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Networks & Neighborhood: Phase II

Field Log 26 May 2015


Satender Tiwari

I visited Mrs Saira Siddiqi, President of Khirkee Extension Welfare Association, at her house in J-Block. We had a long conversation about my project. I asked her what she thought about women’s visibility on the street, and why women are less visible in comparison to men, what problems women encounter in the public space of Khirkee, and whether they bring their problems to the Association’s notice. According to Mrs Siddiqi, the root issue is that a residential area has been converted into a commercial area over the last ten to twelve years. Every building has workshops that employ  workers, hence a large influx of men who hand around, eat, socialize, deliver parcels and orders, etc. The J-Block market has shops on the ground floors of these buildings as well as food shops, so many outsiders from surrounding areas like Malaviya Nagar come into the neighbourhood to buy, eat and also to try and impress the local girls. A decade ago there were fewer houses and a much smaller population, but now the multistory buildings are being constructed for rental purposes. Many different groups are coming in, Africans are living here, and there is a group of transgender migrants living at the end of the Khoj street. People park their cars or vehicles on the street, further reducing the space to walk. There is no municipal dustbin where residents can throw their household waste, so they dump it on the street corners and dirtying the area.

In addition, said Mrs Siddiqi, migrant workers have made Khirkee their base. Some of them come in the morning and leave at night, others sleep in their workshops. In the morning between six and eight o’clock there are so many men in the street, it is impossible to walk through. At lunch time all these men are in the street having food, and in the evening from six to eight o’clock, after work they are socializing, making purchases, eating, and hanging around till late. Workers and outsiders are the main population on the streets and this is why women feel uncomfortable in public here. There are also many thelawalas (street vendors) roaming around from morning to night. The migrants arrive through a chain, first one person comes here and takes up whatever job he can find, lives wherever he can afford to rent, then he shifts his family here and they too take up whatever work they can, at local dhabas, general stores, and so on. After some time they open their own shop or buy their own fruit or vegetable cart. Many new and unknown people have become residents here; in the past, everyone knew each other but that has all changed.

Moreover, said Mrs Siddiqi, men on the street not only stare at women and girls, and pass comments; they won’t make space for women or girls to pass. If the woman or girl asks the man to move, he will reply rudely, itni jagah to hai, nikal jao. This attitude makes women and girls either take inconvenient alternative routes, or avoid going out, or somehow develop a way to ignore the insult. Women are affected psychologically, becoming self-conscious and insecure whenever they are in public spaces.