Curating gendered digital lives in Delhi’s urban peripheries
Combining approaches from urban geography, gender studies, software ethnography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), this ArcGIS mapping initiative is a unique interdisciplinary international collaboration between King’s College London and ‘Gendering the Smart City’ #GSCProject project network societal partners Safetipin and Jagori in India.
The Story Map presents different perspectives of a digital age by young women living in Delhi’s urban peripheries – resettlement colonies, urban villages and border towns. Using visualisations of selected data – participatory maps, photographs (click here for Rohit’s photo essay on his photos included in the exhibition), videos and WhatsApp diaries maintained by these women over a period of 6 months, #AanaJaana curates women’s everyday stories of comings and goings in the city. It explores how women on the margins view, understand, and ultimately navigate the city through information and communication technologies (ICT) accessed from their mobile phones. It provokes us to think what mobility means in a context where social media provides real time information on the dangers and freedoms located in the metro, bus, auto rickshaw, and walkways as well as the opportunity to express this in creative and poignant ways. It also shows us how women living on the urban peripheries negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving (aana) in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out (jaana) into the city, or the constraints of entering (aana) online space with the constant control over their bodies even when they leave (jaana) home for the city.
Watch and share the videos of their performance below:
They performed their ‘#KhadarKiLadkiyan [#KhadarGirls]’ freestyle hip hop rap song accompanied by a choreographed dance on stage before thousands during the event celebrating feminist music, dance, theatre and poetry as part of the international One Billion Rising #VDay day of global solidarity.
You can find out more about the exhibition by exploring our interactive Story Map here and the exhibition information page here.
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, in the weeks leading up to the exhibition and during the exhibition month, members of the public were invited to enter our #AanaJaana [#ComingGoing] international photo competition by taking a selfie while travelling or using public transport, posting it on Twitter and tagging our competition hashtags #AanaJaana and #GSCProject.
Each photo entry was judged by our international research team based on its relevance to our project themes – women’s rights in the city, urban futures, urban mobility, smart cities, inclusive cities and right to the city, everyday cities and safe cities.
Congratulations to @durkhaima on her winning entry!
Our international research team decided that this selfie photo entry and accompanying text perfectly highlighted the issues related to the research themes our research network team is exploring as part of our project – women’s rights in the city, urban futures, urban mobility, inclusive cities, right to the city and safe cities.
Other Amazing Entries
A big thank you to all those who visited our ‘Art in Public Places – #AanaJaana: Curating Women’s Digital Stories of the City’ exhibition and submitted selfie photos from both the UK and India!
Taking selfies and posting them on social media is often derided as a narcissistic, self-absorbed and attention-seeking practice. Filters come in for particular disdain due to the role they play in reinforcing unattainable beauty standards, by making faces lighter, slimmer and wider-eyed than is natural.
Yet feminist, minority and queer activists have argued that selfies can be a way for people to represent and take pride in their identity, sexuality and gender orientation. And recently, my own experiences researching gender, smart cities and urban citizenship in India have led me to see the value of selfies in a new and surprising way.
As part of a recent research project, my team and I were interested in understanding the lives of young women living in slum resettlement colonies on the outskirts of Delhi’s sprawling metropolis. To that end, we created a WhatsApp group, and asked 11 women to send in diary entries of their daily experiences in the form of images, text, audio or video as they travelled from their homes to the city over the course of six months.
Our participants turned out to be avid selfie takers. But there’s much more to this than a simple rendition of a millennial trend. Their selfies are digital, visual stories from the margins which capture their struggles and accomplishments as they step out from women’s traditional role in the home and navigate the largely male-dominated realm of the city.
Phones for fun and freedom
Getting a personal mobile phone is a significant event in the lives of these women. Families only permit the women to have their own phone after a series of difficult negotiations, as families are anxious that the phones could lead to what families perceive as “transgressive” behaviour, such as disobeying parents, breaking curfew, talking to men, or wearing Western clothes. Our participants convinced their families that having a phone is essential for keeping safe and staying in touch, when they have to go into the city for “legitimate” reasons such as work or education.
Smart phones usually come at a price which their families cannot afford, so when women start working they often spend their first salary to get one of the cheaper Android devices and pay off the full cost in monthly instalments. Data is affordable and connectivity can be instantaneous. Having a personal phone gives women the ability to leave the home and communicate with others away from the gaze of the family, so they see it as giving the gift of freedom.
Women celebrate this freedom using the phone’s front-facing camera. Of course, they take selfies for fun, using filters to transform their faces with amusing and outlandish templates.
WhatsApp me aana, facebook me jaana, yeh hai smart zamaana – translated as ‘coming on WhatsApp, going to Facebook, these are the smart times’. – WhatsApp diary entry, 2018.
But they also take selfies to record their visits to different places, celebrate their friendships and mark their coming of age as smart, connected young women, enjoying urban life – even when poor network connectivity means phones frequently crash and apps fail.
The city at arm’s length
Our participants didn’t really regard taking selfies as a political act. But when you consider how, when and where they take selfies the images are a barometer of their social, economic and political exclusion from the city. They speak to the paradoxes experienced by women living in Delhi’s urban peripheries, as both technology – and the city itself – can be at once liberating and dangerous.
In some ways, the selfies show that being in the city is liberating for women, as they represent a new-found freedom outside the home and the constraints of traditional gender roles. Through these selfies, women curate the city at arm’s length, placing themselves in the centre of the frame as they stage their own arrival in many different public places.
But by recording women’s presence at a particular time and place, these selfies also give away what, when and where the women cannot be. For example, selfies are mostly taken during the day, or when they are with a group of friends, in places where there are fewer men, or in familiar neighbourhoods where they feel comfortable and confident. Very rarely do these women take selfies when they travel alone, – because sexually predatory male attention remains a constant feature of their journeys.
Uploading selfies to Facebook also exposes these women to the dangers of online and offline stalking, harassment and bullying. A disturbing picture entry in the WhatsApp diary, captioned “my selfie in a bus full of men”, evoked the Nirbhaya case of 2012 – when a young woman was fatally gang raped on a bus – and suggested that the selfie is also a way for these women to witness and record danger in their everyday life.
Phones between the home and the city
Selfies inside the home are largely absent in the WhatsApp diary entries. Although home is valued by their families as private – and therefore safe for women, our participants often viewed it as a place of confinement.
Home is where the women’s daily struggles with poor infrastructure for drinking water, sanitation, waste collection and transport take place. More significantly, family control over women’s bodies – through strict curfew hours and restrictions on where they can go – highlight older and younger generations’ very different understandings of freedom and danger.
While older generations who grew up without mobile phones are mainly concerned about women’s physical safety, the young women in our research have to deal with daily invasions of privacy, sexual harassment and abuse both at home and in the city, online and in real life. Their selfies tell a story about what it’s like to navigate the journeys between home and the city, as the boundaries between public and private, freedom and danger become increasingly blurred in these “smart times”.
Project Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta and Co-Investigator Dr. Padmini Ray Murray were invited to give talks at the Digital/Visual Publics ‘Visualising Digital Heritage, Futures, and Other Temporalities’ public lecture organised by Digital | Visual | Cultural which took place on January 7th and 8th 2019 at St. John’s College Auditorium, University of Oxford, UK.
And we're off! @dvcultural is bringing together academics and practitioners in digital and urban technologies. Today, we're talking pollution sensing, public participation, urban screens, and urban tech futures. If you can't be here, there will be summary podcasts soon. https://t.co/VB8wcjtBZJ
.@AyonaDatta on Government 2.0, a new form of tech. enabled governance, transferring the burden of security of the individual citizen onto the citizen him/herself, which is predicated on the smart city working smoothly and efficiently in tandem with technologies of surveillance
Datta flags up how colonisation seen through the lens of time leads to the tension between the "slowness" of tradition and the "speed" of modernity; the gendered experience of time, temporality determined by the quotidian rhythms determined by the expectations held of poor women
really interesting question from the audience @dvcultural re: how citizen-driven endeavours to respond to environmental damage & change actually elides neoliberal responsibilism, and might not be as impactful on policy as desired, which ultimately is an exercise in power.
Tomorrow is the big day. Digital Visual Publics commences tomorrow at the St. John’s College auditorium. Just uploaded the annotated programme to the event page, which you can access here. Have a look if you’re in Oxford and still on the fence:https://t.co/G53oCYXkvP
Had a very engaging and thought-provoking couple of days at the @dvcultural Digital Visual Publics event in Oxford. Gave me so much to think about regarding temporality, participation and meaning-making with digital media. Many thanks to the organisers and all involved! pic.twitter.com/21XU8n6X2N
Please see below a Photo Essay by photographer Rohit Madan, including a 360 degree view of a busy crossroad in Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony, New Delhi, India, one of the areas our ‘Gendering the Smart City’ project is focusing on.
The photo essay forms part of our #GSCProject #AanaJaana exhibition taking place in Mandi House metro station, New Delhi from 1 to 31 January 2019. You can read more about the exhibition here and explore and share our exhibition event Facebook page here.
Sunayana Wadhawan, Sound Artist and Music Director
It all began with the young women of Madanpur Khadar, when they voiced their idea for expressing their thoughts and experiences in the city through a song. Inspired by the youth and emerging alternative media around them, the young women began envisioning themselves as being heard and becoming visible in the fast internet world.
Music is a powerful instrument to connect with people, their personal experiences and their struggles. It is present in the personal as well as public spheres of our lives, and has the potential to overcome social and physical boundaries within and across communities. This was their first time trying their hand at an experiment with evolving genres of music like hip-hop and slam poetry, and we collectively turned it into an opportunity to find our voices, our rhythms, our styles, and think more deeply about our reasons for engaging with music.
All the women involved in this song, including me, are women who are working and/or performing domestic work at their homes. We met every Sunday for a few hours as that was the only day we didn’t have to go to work outside. The sessions were based on the following themes that were covered over a period of 10 days in total.
Introductions and discovering rhythms: To work together, it was important to first get to know each other and share our personal stories and struggles, issues that affected us the most, our aspirations and our love for music. We respected the stories each one of us shared with the group, these stories accompanied by tears, laughter and much more. We also searched our memories for issues and incidents that affected women in cities to bring alive narratives and people’s stories previously missing in our conversations. While we acknowledged that our bodies were a site of violence in the city, we also discussed notions around desires for freedom linked to our bodies. This also led us to explore how and why we enjoyed dancing to songs from different regions and understanding how rhythms flow through our bodies and can give a sense of freedom of movement.
Apart from clapping and dancing, one of the exercises I conducted was an attempt to find a shared rhythm using a timing that we are all familiar with – the sounds made when we wash clothes. It was an extraordinary moment as all the women had different styles of washing clothes and each one of them was well versed with the actions and sounds involved in washing clothes – a domestic chore often delegated to women in the house. We all settled on one of the easier-sounding styles that helped us make the sounds collectively in rhythm and in unison.
History of hip-hop and finding your own genre: From discussing the history of hip-hop as a medium of protest and expression, to observing how hip-hop has been embraced in India over the last few years, we watched videos and grooved to different songs to become more familiar with the sound and delivery of messages through spoken word/hip-hop music. We also watched videos of emerging female hip-hop artists in India like MC Kaur, Dee MC as well as songs like ‘O Womaniya’ that revive local dialects, music instruments and traditions with the help of technology. We did a few exercises to come up with rhymes in Hindi and English, inventing words to find a way to express ourselves and help us warm up to writing our song.
Lyric writing: Taking from the conversations we had during our introductions, each of the women penned down their own story as well as the stories of others they had learnt about from the news or even their neighbourhood, in the form of prose, poetry and couplets. The challenge here was to let different stories emerge and express them in the least amount of words possible. We worked on the stories and rephrased them, added rhymes to them, and began reciting them to each other. We then stood in circles and recited different verses alongside some hip-hop tracks I had prepared for our sessions. This process also helped us edit and put the verses in an order that allowed the stories to become more connected and cohesive as one collective narrative, while at the same time retaining everyone’s individual voices and words.
Recording, tracking and mixing: Initially, we had planned to hire a studio and gain experience of working in a studio environment, surrounded with all its technologies, as budding artists. However, constraints on time, and being unable to get all the women to a studio for several hours on the same day, limited our options. We decided to take inspiration from our situation, absorbing it into the process of creating this song, and borrowed a good quality sound recorder to record each of the women singing/reciting different parts of the song. Their voices echoed through the lanes of the neighbourhood when they were practicing and collectively recording parts of the chorus and other lines. It was challenging to balance the sounds of a busy neighbourhood and the sometimes timid voices of women who were finding their inner strength to do justice to the emotions they tried to express in the song. Yet, we managed to find spaces in their homes, and Jagori’s local office, to record to our best abilities as the women juggled between their responsibilities and their excitement for recording their very first song.
Once the recordings were done, we heard them out and selected those that were well-recited and fit well with the tempo of the base track. After organising each of the voice clips of the track on software with the help of sound professionals, we worked with, and gave inputs to, the sound professionals to ensure the tracks were mixed in a way that separated each of the voices without making them sound disconnected.
Then came the most exciting moment for all of us – to hear the final track together. It was a Sunday again, and most of the women who took part were present during our first collective listening session. The happiness in the room was evident from the smiles on everyone’s faces at hearing their own voices in the final version of the track. Some of the women were so overwhelmed at their achievement that they had tears rolling down their cheeks.
It has been a wonderful and enlivening experience to be a part of this journey to find our voices, imbibe the joy and power possessed by music, and witness a growing sense of pride and confidence in the women as they expressed hope to continue making more songs and spread powerful messages in their city.
Read the other blogs on our new #GSCProject initiative:
‘Filming ‘Khadar ki Ladkiyan’ [Khadar Girls]’ by Nandan Latwal, our Film Director and Creative producer, here.
‘The City is For You and Me’ with the music video by Dr. Ayona Datta, Project Principal Investigator, here.
I was lucky enough to be a part of this research network and feel strongly about the overarching objective of this research project. My association with the ‘Gendering the Smart City’ project was quite serendipitous and has been rewarding in many ways. Without going into too much detail, I would like to share a few challenges that we had to face during the making of this video with the Khadar girls.
Poster created by: Ayona Datta
Availability – Although the Khadar girls might appear homogenous, yet the group was quite diverse in terms of identity. They ranged from unmarried, divorced, to single mothers; most of them were working outside their homes and some pursuing education alongside this. Amidst all the personal, professional and educational pursuits, it was tough for them to take time out for participation in the project and particularly for the film. The working women often came to the filming sessions even if they have to make excuses at work. Those who have to take care of their family were continually moving between the filming sites and their homes.
Onlooker’s reactions – It is clear from the music video that it is of an open genre where the Khadar girls speak back to the city about their day-to-day challenges particularly around violence in public spaces. Most of this music video have been shot in the streets, main road and open market – places that are frequented by men in general. The Khadar girls had to withstand this male gaze in public places, often also from their neighbours or relative. Even though initially they were uncomfortable with this gaze, they stood firmly through this.
Image Credits: Ayona Datta
Infrastructural challenges – In the #AanaJaana StoryMap Dr. Datta has shown how in recent years urban transformation has taken places in Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony. Khadar is on the outskirts of Delhi NCR with least or minimal infrastructural development. The roads were narrow with no public transport and modern monuments of garbage everywhere, with cows scavenging on them. On the last day of our shoot there were no electricity all through the day, no streetlight, and no place to charge our equipments.
Breaking the ice with Khadar girls – My association with this project is nothing but serendipity and this serendipity happened on the night before the day of the shoot. So when we started filming, although Dr. Datta and her team had been working closely with the Khadar girls but my crew and I were strangers to them. To be able to achieve a music video of a good quality we felt that it was critical for us to know them better. We spent a half a day just to get familiarise with each others through various participatory video training sessions.
Image Credits: Ayona Datta
Facing the camera – With the advent of smart phone and cameras at both in the back and at the rear people have become adept at photography and taking selfies, but a camera with a cinematographer on the other end is still threatening to a lot of people. I have seen people serving at high posts in government and corporates stammering in front of a camera. Shooting with the Khadar girls was also not easy. We had to take numerous shoots for a single 5 second line and at time with a zero percent success rate. The first day was exceptionally challenging with little progress, but we began to have more of a rapport on the second day. Dr Datta also did a few shoots on the third day and practiced some of the shots with the girls. The last few days of shooting went smoothly with the last day going exceptionally easily as reflected in the video ending.
My strict task-master attitude – My personal attribute might have been a challenge for both the Khadar girls and me as director and producer in charge. As a director of the process I had to be assertive at various points and with each repeat shot I was also losing patience and failing to keep my calm. But at the end of the process the Khadar girls and I had come much closer than falling apart. We have ended the filming with a lot of mutual respect and camaraderie. I hope we can stay in touch and develop more films in the future.
Please click here to see the ‘Khadar Ki Ladkiyan’ music video.
Curating Digital Lives for a Feminist Urban Future
13th December 2018, India International Centre, New Delhi
This workshop seeks to establish an alternative framework for curating the smart safe city. It aims to engender current smart city agendas through young women’s everyday experiences of navigating the city. It will present different perspectives of mobility and safety generated by young women through participatory maps, photographs, videos and WhatsApp diaries maintained over a period of time. In doing so, it explores how women on the margins view, understand, and ultimately navigate the city through information and communication technologies (ICT) accessed from low-cost (and often low-tech) mobile phones. It provokes us to think what safety means in a context where social media provides real time information on the dangers and freedoms located in the metro, bus, auto rickshaw, and walkways as well as the opportunity to express this in creative and poignant ways. It invites us to think how women living on the urban peripheries negotiate the ‘freedoms’ of moving in online space with the ‘dangers’ of going out into the city, or the limitations of engaging via digital technologies with the freedom of stepping out of one’s home. Through a convergence of artistic practice, digital media and architecture, this workshop will demonstrate the potential of a new kind of visual language of safety that is co-produced with the women. It will reveal the capacity of this language to move beyond existing data on gendered violence to highlight the gendered and socio-economic patterns of inclusions and exclusions brought about by a digital urban age.
As part of the United Nations #16DaysOfActivisim, we launched a hip hop song ‘Khadar ki Ladkiyan’ [Khadar Girls] co-written and co-produced with our participants at the event. See our Story Map of the process here.
Explore the event Wakelet with all of the Tweets before and during the workshop here.
Watch our workshop videos featuring our #GSCProject team members and workshop participants – project societal partners, academics, experts, practitioners and community stakeholders – who joined us on the day below:
Read the workshop report by Project Research Assistant Arya Thomas here.
Participants start arriving with tea and coffee served
Project Outline and Findings Chair: Kalpana Viswanath
Dr. Ayona Datta (Principal Investigator), Reader in Urban Futures, King’s College London Gendering the Smart City: Curating Gendered Digital Life in the Margins
Dr. Padmini Ray Murray (Co-Investigator), Digital Humanities Course Leader, Srishti School of Art and Design, Bangalore Sharing and Making Digital Knowledge: Using Wikipedia
Arya Thomas (Research Assistant)
WhatsApping and Rapping with Young Women in Delhi’s Peripheries
Rwitee Mandal, Safetipin (project societal partner) Gendered Safety Maps of the Unmapped Peripheries
Q & A
Break for coffee and tea
Right to Urban Technologies Chair: Padmini Ray Murray
Sarita Baloni, Researcher, Jagori (project societal partner) Working with Youth and Technology in the urban peripheries
Swati Janu, Senior Designer, mHS CITY LABS and Lecturer in Architectural Design, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi Memory Cards and Vernacular Media
Krishna Menon, Professor, School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University Gender and the Smart City
Nayanatara Ranganathan, Manager, Freedom of Expression programme, Internet Democracy Project Surveillance-As-Safety in Hi-Tech India
Q & A
Curating the City with Art and Architecture Chair: Ayona Datta
‘Khadar Ki Ladki’ launch of music video and Q & A with participants and sound artist Sunayana
Kruttika Susarla, Graphic Designer and Comic Artist The Personal is Political
Shveta Mathur, Visiting Faculty, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and Coordinator, Urban Design Studio Student Design Interventions in Khadar
Sameera Jain, Filmmaker, Editor and Course Director, Creative Documentary program, Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication, New Delhi About My Own City
Q & A
Break for coffee and tea
Roundtable Discussion on Gendering the Indian Smart City: Contexts, Challenges and Future Directions Moderator: Kalpana Viswanath, Co-Founder and CEO, Safetipin Janaki Abraham, Associate Professor in Sociology, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi Anjilee Aggarwal, Director, Samarthyam Sohini Bhattacharya, President and CEO, Breakthrough Mriganka Saxena, Founder, HTAU (Habitat Tectonics Architecture and Urbanism)
Final reflections and moving on to next phase of project Ayona Datta and Padmini Ray Murray
Funded by: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), UK
Co-convened by King’s College London and Safetipin, Delhi
Local partners: Jagori and School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi