The freedom of anonymity for women in cities like Delhi can be emancipatory, allowing them to temporarily escape from the traditional patriarchal authority and power structures at home. Living in the capital city can be empowering, but it is also shaped by historical, social, cultural, political, and economic factors that govern the city and the state. The process of globalization has transformed Indian cities, including Delhi, as they adapted to the pressures of a globalized world and the creation of an urban middle class. The Middle-class has been the biggest beneficiary of the Post Liberalization, Privatization and globalization reforms of the 1990s. Investments in the field of technical education, foreign direct investment and expanding the IT sector in the country make the middle class the utmost beneficiary of capitalism and a market-led economy. With the expanding market scenario, The Middle Class also termed the ‘Consumerist Class’ which is seen as the backbone of the emerging neo-liberal capitalist economy. With the rise of the Urban Middle Class, the adoption of western modes of leisure and entertainment, such as pubs and cafes, has become part of urban lifestyle and aesthetics. In the 1960s and 70s, the West saw a steady increase in dance-specified leisure spaces like discos, night clubs and jazz clubs with the increased popularity of music. Social dancing became an important weekend leisure activity and such spaces an arena of social and sexual interaction. Hauz Khas village, located in New Delhi, was once infamous for its fashion boutiques and now is known for its clubs, pubs, cafes, and other leisure spaces that have transformed the area and land-owning patterns since the last decade. Bina Ramani, a Delhi socialite, set up a fashion boutique in 1986, appropriating and essentializing the “village dressing” of rural India as well as the inhabitants of the urban village, thereby contributing to the economy of Hauz Khas village. Situated between the ornate Hauz Khas Lake and an urban village settlement, Hauz Khas Village houses various leisure spaces, such as pubs, clubs, cafes, thrift shops, music stores, and art galleries for its consumers. Leisure spaces like pubs and clubs are often promoted by agents who work on commission, offering exclusive deals like “unlimited free drinks” and “free cigarettes” increases if women are in a group.
The spaces in a city are often imagined, experienced, and conceptualized by those who inhabit it, shaped by memories and the kind of interactions that take place within these spaces. The design of these leisure spaces in urban areas is intriguing, often featuring a designated dance floor with tables, a separate seating area with live music performances, and a smoking section. These spaces primarily attract college students, middle-class working professionals, and middle-aged men. They serve as urban architecture that goes beyond the confines of being mere buildings in the cityscape, embodying interactive experiences of the human population while also becoming a macro aspect of urban aesthetics through their infrastructure and architectural style. These places represent not only a physical outlook of the city but also a lifestyle, a marker of social class and social, economic, and cultural capital.
As a college student, I was initially intrigued by the offer of “unlimited free drinks” in the pubs and clubs. However, as I observed the swarm of young men surrounding and commissioning these spaces, I couldn’t help but question the underlying motives behind this seemingly generous offer for women. Gendered spaces are shaped by social structures, power relations, and cultural norms, with women’s leisure opportunities often being limited and controlled by patriarchal structures and relations in their homes, workplaces, and communities. While the presence of middle-class women and female college students in these public spaces can be viewed as a form of resistance against existing stereotypes and patriarchal norms, it is important to question whether these capitalist incentives truly support counter-hegemonic movements.
A cursory examination of the layout of these pubs/clubs reveals much about whom these spaces were initially designed for. Most of the seats around the dance floor are occupied by men, primarily within the age range of 30 to 50, who lounge and enjoy the atmosphere while smoking hookah. Offering incentives such as unlimited free drinks aim to entice women to stay longer in these spaces. Some establishments only offer free drinks at fixed time intervals, often every 30 minutes. The bartender keeps track of time and ensures that the free drink is served after the predetermined interval. The free drink usually consists of vodka diluted with fruit mixes, a choice influenced by the relatively low liquor prices in Delhi and nearby areas like Gurugram in Haryana.
Turning to the larger question, how do these establishments manage to generate profits despite offering free alcohol to women on a daily basis? Leisure activities, and the affordability of such activities, are restricted to certain social classes, primarily the urban middle class and above. Profits are accrued through the male gaze, as these establishments accommodate more women and entice them to stay longer, thereby attracting more men to purchase expensive drinks or even buy a whole bottle for themselves. The capitalist and architectural ideology behind these spaces is to not only encourage urban middle-class women to consume these leisure spaces but also serve as objects for the male gaze while engaging in leisure activities. Such spaces can be attributed to serving the sexual pleasures of upper-class and middle-class men. The offer of free drinks acts as a capitalist strategy to attract women to these spaces, ultimately benefiting the male gaze and perpetuating patriarchal norms. The idea of women as objects of desire are reinforced by the commodification of their sexuality and the use of their identity and confidence for the benefit of men. These incentives do not align with the ideals of counter-hegemonic practices and are not genuinely emancipatory. Therefore, it is important to critically analyze and challenge the power dynamics that exist within these gendered spaces to create more inclusive and equitable environments for all individuals.
Gendered spaces and Hauz Khas Village
The concept of gendered spaces refers to the social construction of spaces based on gender norms, behaviours, and expectations. Spaces are not merely physical entities; rather, they are structured through complex power relations, moral codes, conventions, and social institutions. The gendering of spaces is not a new phenomenon, as it has deep historical roots, often influenced by power dynamics. Certain groups have historically exerted more control over public spaces, resulting in the exclusion and marginalisation of others.
The binary that distinguishes the public sphere as masculine and the private sphere as feminine further perpetuates this dynamic. When upper-middle-class, middle-class, or college-educated women enter leisure spaces, even when defying normative patriarchal authorities, they are still reduced to the idea of “Woman as spectacle” and “object of desire.” Thus, leisure spaces invariably manifest and carry over the binaries of gender, capitalise and commodify the sexuality of women, making the urban cityscape – gendered.
As I was leaving Hauz Khas Village, I observed many women and men entering these leisure spaces, swarmed by commissioned agents promising “unlimited free drinks.” As I made my way back towards the entrance gate for my auto, a recurring thought lingered in my mind, concluding my visit to this place: this phenomenon resembled creative destruction – tearing down existing structures – as women use their economic, social, and cultural capital to access once-masculine leisure spaces. However, this “tearing down” also serves capitalist interests, giving rise to the new and aiding in the accumulation of wealth by perpetuating the same values that view women as “spectacles” and “objects of desire.”
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