Capturing the lives of women in Delhi
Women make 50 per cent of the society we live in, and thanks to those 50 percent women, our society continues to exist. Delhi - capturing women’s lives and change in a city in transition focusing on the social history was the topic of a lengthy discussion in the lecture room of the India International Centre.
The Capital heard eminent people speaking about the city and its women. Women spoken about were not just of today but even when the country was a colony of the British. We got an opportunity to hear people from various fields. Prof Narayani Gupta was the moderator, moderating speakers like Mahmood Farooqui, Sohail Hasmi, Navina Jaffa and Sharda Nayak. The discussion altogether transported us to a Delhi that we can only imagine today.
Beginning with Sharda Nayak, she made us all go emotional. We all had teary eyes as we listened to her like little children being mesmerised by an unheard fairytale. She said, ‘The one woman who I will never forget in my life is the one I met when I was a little girl. She was the least attractive woman physically. But today I can say, she is the most beautiful woman I have ever met’. Nayak was talking about Sarojini Naidu. She spoke about how we all miss out on the beauty of daily life. ‘If we notice the colours, scents, the movement of animals, if we observe them, we will never be sad. We will only be amazed at the beauty of small things’, she said. She spoke of how women of different sections of society got together during the partition and started running a small hospital for the refugees. Over time, the hospital became so popular that it extended its branches to many in number.
After that, we heard Navina Jaffa, an academician in heritage education and a Kathak dancer. She spoke of the community of tawaif. It was highlighted how the social status of these women, who once were regarded as very respectable, had suddenly been criminalised. Post the Anti- Prostitution movement in the 1930s, these women lost their livelihood and started being outcast by the society that once saw them as an asset for being called ‘elite’. The discussion however never romanticised the profession. Similarly, an at length discussion happened on the nat community. How they were now far away from their art form and were engaged in washing utensils and cleaning kothis to have two square meals a day.
Filled with humour was a narration by the historian Sohail Hashmi, one who is famous for his heritage walks in the city. He spoke of how a muslim woman moved from the stage of wearing a long ‘shuttle cock’ burkha to being the president of the Communist Party. The woman was none other than his grandmother.
The discussion was all in all interesting. But one could feel the lacuna in the discussion. The topics picked up, although excellently, by the team were focused on specific groups of people. It failed to touch lives of common middle class women of Delhi. It did not include the ordinary women of Delhi. However, mention was made of how women during 1950s never felt scared travelling at night and never faced anything called eve teasing, contradictory to the situation today.