[Reader-list] Bcckground of Research

Zainab Bawa coolzanny at hotmail.com
Sun Jan 25 13:44:59 IST 2004


Physical Space is a very crucial component of human and animal life. We 
often refer to crowds and ‘space constraints’, particularly on moments when 
we are most irritable and just wanting the entire world to get off our 
heads. What tends to get overlooked in the issue of physical space is its 
absolute necessity, its criticality, because ultimately, physical space 
affects and shapes a lot of our behaviours. Mob violence and rioting is also 
an outburst and expression of shrinking physical space. As populations are 
increasing, the need for physical space is becoming even more acute and 
intense because the number of spaces is shrinking in order to make way for 
housing and ‘development’.

Crowds are a lived experience in Mumbai City. The most commonly cited 
example of crowds in Mumbai is ‘trains’, the lifeline of this great city. 
Perhaps most visitors to Mumbai have experienced trains at least once. The 
amount of research, data and films on trains is currently storming into and 
gaining ground in the intellectual, academic and discussion spaces!

My research fellowship is about watching Women in trains and looking at the 
ladies compartment in the trains as one of the spaces in Mumbai City. There 
is a definite reason why I chose the two subjects i.e. women and space. I 
will get into a little bit of history here to explain my purpose (and also 
my agenda!).

Space is a subject close to my heart. For me, mental space emanates from 
physical space and mental space changes perceptions about physical space. 
Both live off each other. I live in a small home in Mumbai City. The 
smallness of my home became very apparent and stark to me when I was 20 
years of age. Each day, I realized how my family members i.e. my father, 
mother and younger sister, were constantly in my face and that I needed some 
space to breathe and be myself. I wanted to emerge as an individual and 
there were occasions when I felt, “Heck, here is my mother who intervenes in 
my choice of style of dressing!” “Heck, here is my dad who wants to say to 
me what I am supposed to do in life!” While to a lot of us these conflicts 
will be viewed as a part of the growing-up process, my experience was that 
the conflicts became all the more compounded because I was heavily involved 
in them as a party myself and secondly and most importantly, because I did 
not have the luxury of distance from the family in the form of a separate 
room to myself.

At the age of 23, I went to Kashmir. My visit to Kashmir occurred at a time 
when my conflicts with my family were at a height. I felt it was important 
for me to simply leave home because leaving home would make life much easier 
for me! The first experience of entering the Valley was that of shock and 
disturbance. As the vehicle moved from Jawahar Tunnel into the Valley, the 
sights of the mountains awed me. But as I moved further and further, I got a 
feeling of being watched. Finally, upon reaching my host’s home, I collapsed 
into a corner and said to him, “Even though the dense army cover is not 
doing anything to me, no soldier is coming and questioning me, I am feeling 
like an establishment is sitting on my head, almost like my own father sits 
on my head at home!”

Further experiences in Kashmir began to make it evident to me that while 
there is tremendous physical space in the Valley, there is no mental space 
for people. The houses in Kashmir were huge and I am sure that most 
individuals in Srinagar at least have rooms to themselves, but inspite of 
this, the youth there are not allowed the space to express themselves and 
develop their individuality. In sum, they were, and are, almost ‘assembly 
line’ products!

Each experience in Kashmir made me all the more sensitive towards the little 
conflicts in my own house. Each experience taught me that the larger 
conflicts that we see in the world today are mostly magnified replays of the 
problems that occur inside our own little houses. The family is a system – a 
micro-system. Our parents are a product of their parents and we take on some 
of the habits and behaviours of our parents. The system continues. The 
opportunity for us, when we distance ourselves from the family, is to see 
where some changes can be made within this little system, because at times, 
the very change in the system produces the automatic big change among human 
beings themselves. (I am not so sure whether I am expressing myself well 
over here!)

To move further, Kashmir gave me the thought and the germ of the idea about 
spaces. My return from each visit to Kashmir made me view Mumbai City 
differently – issues of identity, anonymity and community, human 
interactions, communication and miscommunication, etc. became better 
understood as I began to debate and discuss in my own head and with the 
heads of others!

The current research fellowship is titled “Women in Trains: An Examination 
of a Shade of Physical Space in City Life”. The idea in this study is to 
check out and analyze the ladies compartment in the trains and see how 
crowds affect women. Space is a crucial component of conflict and violence, 
however small or big the conflict and violence maybe. I am particularly 
interested in women because women bring a special value to society and to 
the world at large. My belief is that in today’s times, the way to conflict 
and to peace is through women. Women can both, perpetuate violence, and pave 
the way towards peace. There is a certain sensitivity among women which is 
difficult to numb. I am not so sure about this in males. Addressing this 
sensitivity and potential in women which will enable to bring in peace.

Women need more space (not that men don’t). There is a need to be able to 
breathe and think in quiet, have a space for reflection. All of this is 
dying slowly. I am looking at this research as an opportunity to understand 
space and its impact and also to develop a larger vision of the kind of 
spaces we need for both men and women and for people in general (which 
includes children and animals as well). The need thereafter would be to work 
in a more integrated manner and with a larger vision towards what kind of 
cities and spaces do we want for ourselves in the future.

What would be rewarding and interesting is if the readers can post their 
experiences in trains across the world. I will soon create a blog which will 
enable us to have more lively discussions!

To conclude, for me, Space and Women are two crucial aspects of the way 
towards democratic peace! And democratic peace means existence of diversity 
and differences, but with a greater ability to work through these!

-	Zainab Bawa
-	For communication, email zainabbawa at yahoo.com

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