This was our first day of fieldwork observing gender presence within the public spaces of Khirkee and Hauz Rani. Both localities were new to us. We left Khoj at around 12.45 pm and walked towards Hauz Rani. It was Friday and the road was crowded with the male population, including from the large migrant community, gathering for namaz. Most wore white kurta-pajamas and prayer caps. Boys wore coloured kurtas, and we noticed many Afghans in pathani suits, as well as some in T-shirt and jeans. All the nearby roads were blocked and sheets were spread out in parking spaces. There were three policemen present as well as a CCTV camera for security – an unusual sight at namaz.
We then walked towards Khirkee, thinking we might see more women there since it has a more mixed population. But there too no women were visible on the road. The balconies too were empty and the roads were less crowded with men. We found a park near the mandir (temple) where a group of men was playing cards, others walking around while talking on their cellphones. People, including some women, were mostly using the park as a shortcut through the locality.
We returned to Khoj to wait till namaz ended, since the dominance of public space by men at prayer time didn’t give a true picture of gender presence. At 3 pm we walked further out, to Khirkee Extension. A cool breeze was blowing. Still, no women were on the road nor did we see any women on the balconies. We walked past fruit carts, stores, parks, boutiques, medical stores, presswalas, restaurants, small empty plots, hair salons, momo stalls, a soda shop, schools, mobile repairing shops, etc. The soda shop was run by a local woman. We stopped to buy something to drink. A group of Afghan teenage boys, perhaps 16-18 years old, were standing there. Another Afghan boy came up to them, whispered something to them and then hugged them one by one. Other groups of local youngsters were playing on the road. There was no girl in these groups, nor any separate group of girls. Not a single girl was outside playing. We saw many beauty parlours in Khirkee but did not observe any women going in and out. On the other hand, the African parlour was full of African customers.
From Khirkee we walked through the J-Block connecting lane into Hauz Rani. By this time it was evening and the roads were quite full. Women were coming out of their houses and buying things in the market, but there were still many more men to be seen than women. The lanes are densely populated, uneven, ascending and descending, and in some parts so narrow and dark that lights have to be kept on in the daytime. Some lanes seemed to be ending but would suddenly link up with the main road. Men were hanging out in groups on the street corners, where they get together after namaz to socialize. There were very few beauty parlours as compared to Khirkee, but just as many medical stores, grocery shops and food stalls selling kabab, biryani, lassi, paratha, fruit. There are many workshops of different kinds in the basements of the buildings. The only woman to be seen working on the road was a presswali.
We were hungry by then and wanted to eat, but it was difficult to find a place suitable for a woman. The local restaurants, small and cheap, seemed to serve only labourers, all men; there was no seating arrangement for families. As we walked towards outer Hauz Rani we got a strong smell of rose petals. We stopped at a small Afghan shop selling biryani, cigarettes and cold drinks. We sat down and ordered biryani, and till the food came we talked to the shop owner. He was from Kabul and had come to Delhi. Initially he was working as an electrician to make ends meet. He is sending his children to school, and his wife is not well, so he has started this biryani shop. While eating we also talked to an Afghan suffering from paralysis, who has come to Delhi to get his treatment in Rockland Hospital.
Hauz Rani has more parks as compared to Khirkee. The Haji Park was neglected but the Bhagat Singh Park was fully maintained. On our return walk from Hauz Rani to Khoj I saw a girl, about seven years old, standing on the road near the gate of her house. Suddenly a boy of about fourteen came up and scolded her, ordering her to go inside. She obeyed.