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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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Women have thrived in the society not without putting up struggle and when the question of imprinting self-identity comes into the scenario the scuffle becomes more austere. The story of Urmi ji (name changed) and Rama ji (name changed) brings forth this immense struggle that women goes through to establish themselves in this society where certain (patriarchal) norms are valued more than the worth of a woman. These two women have built a small world around their boutique where their command is the last thing. Nonetheless, though for Urmi ji the boutique (precisely her tailoring shop) is a modus operandi towards a better living, for Rama, it is an instrument upholding her worth and giving way to her freedom. A freedom which she had longed for years, which grounded when she finally collected the courage to break through the false mask of the social values. Her separation from her profligate husband and forceful moving out of her in-laws house in Lucknow to Delhi, and her bold decision of raising her children by her own blood paved her way towards this caricature of confidence and building of the self-identity that she possess now.

For Urmi ji, her husband has been a support system helping her in creating her own identity. His allowing her to set up her small boutique (tailoring shop) without any hesitation and permitting her to enjoy her economic independence has been a blessing in disguise – as not only she now supports her family economically she also interacts with people with more confidence – which according to her, a woman with no educational background seldom relishes. Nonetheless, she still prefer solitary at her work place and denied of engaging into any kind of ‘extra’ gossip with the ladies she come across in her shop. When asked about any externalities she encounters from the passer-by or from other shop owners, as she intruded their space (hers is the only ladies shop in that stretch), she blatantly denied of any. Her denial came in a way which gave a feeling that she choose it deliberately, or, may be, it was too hasty from the part of the interviewer to get so intimate at the very first meeting.

However, keeping aside the struggle that these two women went through, another thing that was very much prominent in their elocution was the submission to incessant social norm.

Urmiji, though presently enjoys the status of being an independent women, had to seek permission from her husband before stepping outside her own ‘private’ space to the ‘public’ space. Furthermore, as her independence is a granted one, which all feminist scholars may argue is a right every women should exert, a large portion of it is commanded by her husband. Thus, she acquires a camouflaged independence wherein her husband is the main actor, under her caricature. He directs all her decision and negotiations within the public space. Surprisingly Rama ji, who hails from a very different background (than Urmiji), i.e. born and brought-up in Delhi, a graduate in commerce, holding a strong personality, belonging from a strong community (saini) still believes women represents the ‘private’ space and if her situations were not so adverse she herself would have maintained that. Her preferable choice would have been that of an actor of the private domain ‘only’. Not that I am humiliating the private sphere, or the janitor of it, but even after experiencing such custodian in the so called masculine space (I have seen many working under her, and she sternly commanding and single handedly managing her workers and customers), deep inside her, she wished submission to the social norms, which has always disfavoured equal status to women. Furthermore, she took continuous wrath and difficulties from her husband, only to break out of her marriage which has never been a favourable one (the base of her marriage was placed on a platform of lie, where the unstable mental condition of her husband was hidden from her and her family), when all her sisters got well settled in their lives or to put it more straight – married. Again submitting to an unsaid social norm. Therefore a duality in the identity is exhibited by these two women, which may not be unique to them only, but most women in our society. Firstly a woman of strong will and attributes – a strong entrepreneur; secondly and quite conflicting to the first image, a woman submitting to the social standards and asymmetrical values – acting according to the social acceptance.

Thus, two different women, from different situations, coming from absolute different background, and different impetus forcing them to break out of their shells and step into the so called ‘masculine’ space. But what remains same for them is the normative or the ideological constrains. Though bold enough to survive at their own terms, somewhere these norms are so deeply rooted that it (the norms) overshadow this audacious endeavour of them.