Beyond the Physical Idea of Space: Walking the Lanes of Shahdara at Midnight
Seventeen Metro Stations away from the bustling Hauz Khas, Shahdara symbolises the difference not simply in pin codes but also in dreams, hopes and fears. But as a woman, walking the streets of Shahdara feels different yet quite the same as walking the streets in any part of Delhi. The basic sentiment of fear, the urge to fight, the sense of responsibility for the fellow traveller and the hope for a better tomorrow remains intact, no matter which part of the city we walk in.
What is the idea of public spaces in Shahdara? How much of it belongs to women, if at all? Our idea of public and spaces was defined and redefined many times during the walk. Our walk leader who has grown up in Shahdara welcomed us into her space and life. We gathered at the Shahdara Metro Station to begin the walk. It was brightly lit with kids playing around, providing us a sense of comfort in the late hours of the night. As we waited for everyone to arrive at the station, we read poems, discussed safety apps for women, learnt about each other’s work and deliberated our experiences from the earlier walks. We were told that the Metro Station at Shahdara is a meeting point for friends and family, given its location and safety. There aren’t many such points in the area, thereby lending the station a greater utility than foreseen by its makers. As we walked away from the station into the lanes and by lanes, the lighting fluctuated between bright to dim to none at all.
It’s the same story as anywhere else in the world, yet unique in a way that encapsulates the social fabric of Shahdara. Shahdara, for one, is an amalgamation of many communities, religions and castes. The influence and opulence are exhibited through the structures built by people to demonstrate the difference in their social status. As we walked the streets, we experienced a change in the structure and size of houses with the change in surnames. The location of the garbage dump, the park and the police station narrated a story only the willing would understand. We experienced community spaces that have been transformed to meet the needs of the affluent. We met irony when walking through a street that’s rather unsafe for women to navigate during the day yet perfectly safe in the darkness of the night. We were told it’s because the men on the streets are busy enjoying themselves at a local bar in the evening, letting women claim the space for the night. This isn’t very different from other parts of Delhi, where the structure of homes and the location of community spaces illustrate a similar disparity in the value of human life, except we rarely pay attention when inundated with our everyday struggles. Yet we find the love and hope to go on, like we did in the food carts of Shahdara, shut for the night but reminding us of our love for jalebi and balushahi, sweetening our walk in more ways than one.
We concluded the walk by talking about how we felt (as women) to be walking the streets of Delhi at night and in particular that night in Shahdara. It was a sordid realisation — the dearth of public transport at night in the city — that makes us rely on cabs to commute our way back home. As we stood outside the Welcome Metro Station discussing our challenges, one from the group asked, how many of us could afford spending on cabs to spend time with our families at the India Gate? Then, is the right to visit India Gate at night, enjoy an ice-cream on a cool winter or a warm summer night, only reserved for those who could afford to pay for the journey leading up to the ice-cream? These are questions we must ask, even though we fail to answer them consistently as a society. The idea of public spaces extends well beyond our myopic comprehension of the physical spaces to indulge the idea of a society that has a place for all of us in ways that doesn’t demarcate or rank the value of human life.
Walking the streets where women assert their identity and men question theirs, where men assert their existence and women question theirs, we realised our struggles are perpetual — to seek, endeavour and perish. It is a fight that’s rooted in yet transcends the defined boundaries of collective and individual identities, a constant that’ll only metamorphose into another label in another time.
If you want to write about your experience on the road or volunteer with us, write to us at email@example.com. We’d be delighted to hear from you!