Conversations: What is Your Safe Space?

At the Colour Box, Dharavi women met over a number of weekends to place little toys and dolls in boxes. These compartments represented their happy places, their safe spaces. Part of the Dharavi Biennale’s Cabinet of Curiosities curated by Supriya Menon, the Safe Space Boxes are transparent cases that offer a peek into women’s lives. Whether it is a zoo or a kitchen, these are places where they feel safest and therefore happiest. Among many questions, the most important is, what do you do when you feel unsafe in your own home?

Some snippets from our conversations:

“The tap needed to be repaired, but when the plumber came home I was nervous. What if he… what if he tries doing something wrong to me? And then, as he was repairing the tap, I asked myself why I was feeling so afraid? I could tackle this man if he attempted to do something to me. Still, I was alone at home and I felt weak. Moreover, we are forced to think of every man as a potential perpetrator. You feel threatened in general all the time.”

“I love Dharavi because all my Tamil festivals are celebrated here.”

“I used to love my native place, but I love Dharavi more since people from all over the country live here.”

“Why can’t a man wait? Most Dharavi houses are a single room where we eat, watch television, study and sleep. There is no privacy for sex. So we naturally turn down our husbands when they want to have sex. Sadly, they accuse us of not having any interest in sex because they think we are sleeping with others.”

“I love Dharavi because my maika is here, my house is here, my in-laws stay here and my work is here!”

“My sister’s father-in-law has this routine of exercising every morning in nothing but his underwear. My sister feels so uncomfortable, but she can’t complain to anyone. Will her husband be okay if she complains about his father? Moreover, the father-in-law sits every morning strategically near a mirror on which he can see my sister change clothes in the next room. Do you suffer as a woman in your own house?”

“I don’t like staying in my house. I love to travel… So, I go to my village, the Mahim Dargah, Ratnagiri, Gorakhpur, Juhu Chowpatty…!”

“The zoo…I love the zoo. I love going to places.”

“On some days, when I’m too stressed out or anxious I love to sit by myself on the terrace of our house. I don’t like to talk to anyone then. If I can’t go to the terrace, I stay at home and watch TV or listen to some music. I need to be silent then.”

“I love the kitchen. My mother and I work in there.”

“It is quiet when my six children are away at school. I can sit at home and do some crotchet then. When they are back things at home are tense again.”