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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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First meeting with Rabia, 50, inhabitant of Hauz Rani-Khirkee for the past 35 years, and currently living on the periphery of Khirkee Extension, on the threshold of Press Enclave Road, an area under threat from developers. She is originally from a village in Uttar Pradesh. Her parents passed away when she was too young to remember them, and she has a hazy recollection of childhood before she was married off at the age of twelve. She had seven daughters and three sons with her husband who never had a stable job. Her eldest daughter got married at eighteen and her eldest son has a job. The family earns monthly income through renting rooms to several tenants. Rabia now stays at home looking after the younger children. She had a tailoring and stitching workshop in her house when she was living in Hauz Rani. Helped by one of her older daughters, she took orders from local factories. When those shut down Rabia had to close her workshop, and the family moved to Khirkee. While talking about the mahaul (‘atmosphere’/‘environment’) in Hauz Rani and Khirkee, Rabia observes that these areas have been infiltrated and “polluted” with the influx of workers from Bihar and UP, and also with the big influx of a range of foreigners who have been renting in this area for the last few years. She says that a decade ago the local girls were comfortable socializing outside and walking in the lanes of the locality, but within the last five years the area has become so congested with men from different backgrounds and ethnicities that it is impossible for women to feel safe when they are in the street for any reason. Rabia notes that many “habshee” (‘African’) and other foreign women walk about confidently, but she thinks that as a rule, local girls and women should be cautious when negotiating the public space of Khirkee, even if it is familiar.

“When I ran my tailoring unit at home, I dealt directly with both factory owners and customers. I was never uncomfortable with their behavior and sustained my business relationships for a long time without effort. I was respected everywhere in the mohalla (‘locality’). When I was a young woman I used to walk alone through the area myself, and I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. But today I do not really allow my daughters to move around freely in these neighbourhoods,” she says.