The Drive to Drive: Mobility and Aspiration amongst Young Women in Delhi
by Maddalena Chiellini, PhD candidate
The research concentrates on the mobility of single women in Delhi, without focussing on a single group or category, but trying instead to widen the scope to include women from different and various economic, social, cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The research has no aim to be comprehensive. Rather, it intends to explore the relationship between single women, the city, and public space, and to understand how this intertwines with personal aspirations and mainstream conceptions of womanhood.
The first group are female taxi drivers. In the past years, cab services for women run by women have started to appear in some of Indian major cities. Delhi is no exception. Such organizations provide chauffeur services or hourly rentals and hire exclusively female drivers, often helping them through the bureaucratic and often hostile procedures of acquiring driving licenses and permits. Working with these organizations might provide an original perspective on the evolving relationship of women and public space in Delhi, with an emphasis on economic independence, empowerment and social change, and on how the idea that women belong only in the ‘safe’ space of the house is being challenged.
The second group are shop assistants and salesgirls working in malls or high end shops in South Delhi. Malls are ambiguous spaces. They are considered safe spaces for women from the middle-class and the elite, while at the same time they are highly exclusive and selective when it comes to accessing them. Female shopping assistants working in them are often women from a modest background who commute from other parts of the city, not being able to afford to live in the expensive residential developments in South Delhi. Therefore, their experience is bound to be very different from that of the people for whom the malls were built: middle class and elite consumers, the third group at the core of this research.
More specifically, I am interested in women residing in gated or enclosed residential enclaves in South Delhi. The idea is that when researching mobility, it might also help to look at immobility, and the limitations that women from privileged backgrounds experience and feel in their everyday lives. How do choices of self-segregation intertwine with personal aspirations?
I believe that working with these three groups, issues such as fear, insecurity, risk-taking, respectability, limitations of mobility and expectations could be raised and addressed.
In addition, I look at the spaces where these three groups of women meet and interact, to gain a perspective on how differently they experience them, navigate them and the different kinds of behaviours they enact. The aim is that of comparing mobilities in order to compare different ways of belonging in the public sphere, ideas of respectability and conceptions of womanhood.