A Literature Review
South Asia has a sizable Muslim population which makes up 40% of the world Muslim community. Pakistan and Bangladesh number more than 90% Muslims among their citizens, while in India, about 12% of the population is Muslim. Islam plays an important role in this region and has done so for hundreds of years.
This chapter, with the help of a literature survey, investigates the social and spatial aspects of segregation of women in this region. It serves as an introduction to women's living patterns in rural South Asia and the resulting women's domain in the house and the neighbourhood. It also serves as a frame of reference for the case study in Bangladesh.[ TopOfPage(); ]
3.2 Islam in South Asia
South Asia already had an ancient civilization and a sophisticated religion (Hinduism) at the time of the first Muslim invasion in 650 A.D. The permanent association of the Muslims with this region started in the last decade of the twelfth century A.D. when the Dehli Sultanate was established. This marked the beginning of continuous Muslim rule in India until the advent of the British in the eighteenth century. The other avenues by which Muslims found their way to India was as traders and missionaries. During the centuries of Muslim rule, gradually a large indigenous population joined the fold of Islam.
Islam is an extremely reified religious tradition, and its doctrines, preceptsand practices are considered to be universal. However, all Islamic societies contain a mixture of local pre-Islamic practice and behaviour, resulting in the present cultural diversity among the followers of Islam. The Muslims of South Asia have always maintained a character of their own; as a community they are a product of numerous disparate groups from all over the Muslim world intermingling with the converts from the indigenous population. All this has a certain amount of relevance on the present status of Muslim women in this region. Bhatty suggests that their position has been compounded of Islamic injunctions and Hindu traditions. And, "as often happens in the compounding of two sets of influences, the conservative and restrictive elements of one have tended to dominate or neutralise the liberal elements of the other."[ TopOfPage(); ]
In South Asia, the practice of seclusion and veiling of women is known as purdah. Purdah is an important part of the life experience of many South Asians and is a central feature of the social system of the area. Women veil and seclude themselves before men through the large part of South Asia that includes Pakistan, Northern India and Bangladesh. David Mandelbaum refers to these regions as the "purdah zone."
The purdah zone comprises all of Bangladesh and Pakistan, plus the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, together with adjoining parts of Madhya Pradesh, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. These areas, though not exclusively Muslim, are heavily influenced by the former presence of Islam. There is no abrupt shift from a purdah to a non-purdah region, but rather a gradual transition through the intervening regions to quite different gender relations of South India.
Veiling and seclusion are customs shared by both Hindus and Muslims in the purdah zone, but they are used in each community for different social purposes and in differing context. Whereas Muslims use this practice to safeguard their women from men outside the family and to keep them in their own separate feminine world, Hindus use the same device to enforce women's subordination to their in-laws, generally to order the domain of family and kinship. Muslim seclusion begins at puberty, Hindu seclusion strictly speaking begins with marriage. Both Hindus and Muslims, however, share two very central concerns, namely the protection of women and the maintenance of harmony through respect relationship within the family and kindred.
Purdah, which literally means curtain, refers to the physical segregation of living space, as well as the covering of body and face. In broader terms it also refers to the beliefs and values about the behaviour of women, the restrictions on their movements and the requirements for their respectful and deferential demeanour. These include a set of norms which govern the behaviour of women in the presence of males within the home and outside in public areas. The concept also governs the proper behaviour towards male and female elders, which should be respectful of their superior status. Thus a daughter-in-law will cover her head even in the presence of her mother-in-law and an adolescent daughter will assume a respectful posture when her father arrives.
In its most conservative form, the forms of purdah extend to the tone and pitch of voice used known as awaz ka purdah and the practice of eye avoidance nazar ka purdah. Awaz ka purdah is a prohibition on women in respect of conversation with some categories of males and involves restrictions on tone and pitch used. If necessity demands that a purdah-nashin (woman who abides by rules of purdah) speak to an outsider, she does so from behind a screen. Nazar ka purdah restricts men and women from looking or staring at each other.
The above set of norms are internalized by the growing girl so that even though purdah may not be practiced as such, behaviour in the presence of older kinsmen, distant relatives or total strangers is marked by self-consciousness and inhibition. This behaviour is characterized as being modest and as part of the feminine identity. A woman who does not subscribe to it is considered without shame and unrespectable.
Should she wish to go out, a secluded Muslim woman resorts to the portable purdah of the burqa, a garment that effectively hides her face and figure. A burqa, while designedly formless and obviously inconvenient, may nevertheless be viewed by the wearer as a liberating garment. It permits her to move about in public and still remain relatively invisible.
The institution of purdah provides, what Hanna Papanek terms "symbolic shelter" for women, seeking to protect women from the hardships and dangers that dealing with society at large involves. According to Papanek, underlying the entire system of seclusion are certain assumptions about human interaction and about the nature of men and women. Symbolic shelter is provided against real dangers of a segregated world but also, and not least significantly, against the strong impulses such as sexual desire and aggression which are clearly recognized as being part of the human condition. Women's proper behaviour as sheltered persons becomes an important source of the status of their protectors and their behaviour becomes important in terms of honour and family pride for the entire kin group. In a culture where male pride is very significant, and very fragile, the seclusion of women is an important aspect of male control.
However, many writers have noted that women themselves play an important part in upholding, interpreting and perpetuating the concepts of the purdah, specially in rural areas. In this regard A.S. Ahmed says about Pukhtun society in Pakistan, "Here is an obviously oppressed group, who instead of the shackles of bondage is in the forefront of preserving the prevailing social norms. Perhaps the answer lies partly in their insecurity. If they are to maintain their security and respect in society, they must live up to the ideal concept of the Pukhtun woman." This applies generally to purdah societies elsewhere in South Asia.[ TopOfPage(); ]
3.4 Effects of Purdah
The consequences of the custom of purdah for society are many and varied. It has far-reaching effects on education, healthcare, economy, politics, culture and architecture. It is integral to such other aspects of society as the evaluation of status, the ownership and inheritance of property, thearrangement of marriages, the division of labour, and impulse control.
For the purposes of this study, however, what needs to be considered in detail is what Hanna Papanek has termed the "separate world" of women in a purdah society, both in physical and social terms.
The separate world of women determines her role and status in society, her lifecycle changes, her activities and her access to different institutions. All these, in turn, are implemented by rules about the organization of living space and affect her use of space.
3.4.1. Status, Role and Lifecycle Changes
Women's use of space (both private and public) has to be understood within the context of society's definition of male and female roles and behaviour appropriate to each. The strictly patriarchal society of South Asia, together with the purdah system determines the role and status of a woman, which are separate and distinct from the social roles assigned to men. This sharp dichotomy virtually eliminates any opportunity for women to assume roles other than wife and mother.
The status and position of a woman changes as her life progresses. A girl in her parental home passes through infancy, childhood and adolescence. After marriage, she moves to her husband's home and passes through the different phases of her adult life, as daughter-in-law, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother. Women in their different life phases have different activities, as well as different degrees of freedom and adherence to purdah. Lifecycle changes are directly affected by social status, regional differences and economic conditions. However, there is a general pattern, which is described below:
The birth of a girl is often greeted with gloom. In a society where sons signify honour and assets for the family and security in old age, a daughter is less valued, though not necessarily less loved. In the parental home, when a girl usually reaches the age of nine or ten, or in some families till the onset of puberty, certain restrictions are imposed on her. She is no longer allowed to play with boys or to roam about the neighbourhood. Gradually she is confined to the female part of the house and rarely leaves the house unescorted. Whether she goes to the fields for natural functions or to fetch water or fuel, she is usually accompanied by a sibling or friend.
In South Asian countries there is a tradition of early marriage for females, often in their early teens. The system of arranged marriage which prevails in South Asia is clearly related the purdah system, which generally prevents the development of relationships between young people which could lead to a marriage other than one arranged by parents. A Muslim marriage takes the form of a civil contract signed by the two sides and may include specific restrictions agreed upon by the two sides. The marriage service itself is simple, consisting of an offer and an acceptance by the two parties to the marriage, but preceded and followed by fairly well established rituals in a given cultural area. The wife is entitled to receive a sum of money or property from her husband at the time of marriage which is known as mahr.
This sum is usually divided into an amount which is paid immediately and a sum which is deferred to the dissolution of the marriage by death or divorce. Divorce is allowed in Islam, but in actual practice it is very much frowned on, at least in the middle class. Dowry in cash or kind, to be paid by the bride's family to the groom, has become a common fixture among Muslims in South Asia, although this system is not sanctioned by Islam. Disagreements about dowry or non-payment often leads to violence towards women and abandonment.
After marriage, as a daughter-in-law, a woman has the special responsibility to uphold the family name, which she does by meticulously observing the norms of purdah. A new bride observes purdah more rigorously than she will ever do in her life. She avoids the presence of even close family members like elder brothers-in-law and the father-in-law. She is also expected to wait on everyone and work harder than other females in the family. Her use of space at home and the restricted use of public areas must be understood within the hierarchical structure of the patriarchal family.
A young married couple must appear completely uninterested toward each other when they are in the presence of others. A gradual development of personal attachment is expected, as is indicated by the provision of periods of residence of the girl in her natal home after marriage. In some regions, in the early years of marriage, a girl spends longer periods in her natal home than with her husband in her affinal home.
Marriage alone does not automatically make a woman a member of her affinal family. By producing children, especially sons, she consolidates her position, becomes a real member of the family and attains her status within. Once she has borne a child, she is likely to reduce some of her veiling, such as veiling before her mother-in-law.
Before the birth of her first child a woman in some regions returns to her parents' home. Even when birth takes place in the husband's household, she goes to her parents' for a lengthy visit after the childbirth. There in her familiar home she is a favoured, freer person. She is the daughter of the house and the village and she is allowed more freedom than in her unmarried state. Her natal home is one of the few places a woman is expected tovisit, and her natal family, with the permission of her in-laws, occasionally takes her home on visits.
After birth of a few children and as she grows older, she gains more freedom and power in the family set-up. As a mother-in-law, she controls the behaviour and mobility of younger females in the family and supervises their work. The senior females in a two- or three-generation household are reputed to have considerable influence over family affairs. They no longer avoid certain members of the family, move about more freely in the neighbourhood and even speak to strangers if necessary.
3.4.2 Social Class, Status and Purdah
One of the indigenous features of the Muslim society in South Asia is its class structure. This is in direct conflict with the Islamic ideal of social equality and is considered by many writers to have been influenced by the general principles of the Hindu caste society. Traditionally Indian Muslims have been categorized into two major classes: the Ashraf and the Ajlaf. The Ashraf, who are the elite and are said to be descendants of either the Prophet's family or of invaders or preachers from the Middle East, contain four subgroups the Sayyad, Shaikh, Pathan and Moghul. The Ajlaf or non-Ashrafs are considered descendants of local converts and are divided into several occupational subgroups, such as Julahas (weavers), Mirasis (singers), Darzis (tailors), Telis (oil pressers), Fakirs (mystic beggars), and so on. Intermarriage and social mixing among the two groups was almost nonexistant until very recently. Although this grouping is referred to by many writers as Muslim "castes," these groups have none of the rigidity of the Hindu caste system. According to Shibani Roy, among contemporary Muslims these group names hold little meaning besides serving as family names.
The division between Ashraf and non-Ashraf strata of Muslims is clearly reflected in their attitudes towards women. The Ashraf concept of a woman is derived entirely from her role as wife and mother and is garnished with the traditional feminine virtues of pre-marital virginity, beauty, tenderness, modesty, self-denial, graciousness, sensivity and devotion to the family. Ashraf women are expected to adhere to purdah which curtails their freedom to move around. Non-Ashraf women do not as a rule observe strict purdah and their movement is less restricted. And since purdah is one of the insignia of respectability, these women are considered less respectable than Ashraf women. While they play the role of wives and mothers, they are also partners in the daily struggle for earning a livelihood, and the harder the struggle, the greater is the importance of women as a partner in work.
In areas where the Ashraf, non-Ashraf divisions do not apply or are obsolete, for example in Bangladesh and parts of Pakistan, a similar structure however is evident in the social hierarchy. Social classes are based on feudal landholdings and occupations. But virtually all classes in the social hierarchy continue to associate purdah with respectability and status and to endorse its principles of the separation of sexes and feminine modesty. Women from the poorer class, are less restricted by purdah due to practical considerations and because they lack the status that purdah represents. Nevertheless, these women, too, attempt to adhere to accepted standards of feminine modesty in behaviour and dress.
Purdah is a way a family signals its economic superiority. At the same time, purdah commands respect in a way wealth alone cannot, because of its religious connotations and since it is considered good behaviour from a religious point of view. In every village, only a few affluent homes can afford to provide conditions for women to observe strict purdah, but most villagers look to these homes as the most prestigious and respected, an honour to the village,and to this way of life for the women to be most desirable.
Traditionally a family that improved its financial position would attempt to enhance its social standing by placing women in a stricter compliance with the rules of female seclusion. For example, Bhatty found that while upper class Ashraf Muslims in Kasauli, Uttar Pradesh, due to education and urbanization, were moving toward a more liberal attitude, the non-Ashrafs were becoming more conservative and were trying to emulate those very traditional customs of Ashraf society which the Ashrafs themselves were giving up. There was a marked tendency among those non-Ashraf families who have done relatively well to put their women in purdah and to withdraw them from the family work force. It is important to consider that in conditions of poverty, most women work because they must, and not because they find in it a means for greater freedom, economic independence or self-expression. The preference for farmer's wives to withdraw from agricultural labour if they can afford to, is as much due to the degrading nature of manual work as to the effects of being seen outside the home.
There is a considerable difference between the separate worlds of Muslim women of different classes who observe purdah. The upper class women's secluded world has its share of ceremonies, comforts, friendships, enjoyments and household servants. Other classes are not so fortunate. Elizabeth Bumiller, in her study of a Hindu village near Dehli describes the purdah practices of women from different socio-economic groups and the status thus indicated:
If a woman belonged to one of the upper or middle castes, she was confined within the walls of her home to isolation and hard work. An upper caste woman - Shusheela Bajpai - left her house about once a month usually for shopping in Lucknow or to see her friends. She covered her face with her sari until she was beyond the limits of her village and the neighbouring villages. Only outside these limits was she freed by her anonymity. The other extreme was Sudevi, a fifty year old widow from one of the lowest castes. She worked in the fields as hired labour or carried water for the rich families. Many days she was forced to beg at the big landowners' houses. Between these two extremes was Asha Devi, the twenty-year old wife of a son in a prosperous middle-castefarming family. She neither enjoyed the status of the Brahmin landowner's wife, nor suffered the miseries of Sudevi. Yet in some ways her life combined the worst of both worlds. She had married into a hardworking family that was on its way up and its members kept her in purdah to further enhance their position in the conmmunity. Keeping women off the land had always been a mark of distinction, as soon as a family could afford it, the women were brought indoors. Predictably it was often these striving families, to consolidate their precarious new positions within the village hierarchy, who secluded their women most rigidly. Asha Devi led an even more cloistered life than Shusheela Bajpai and with none of Shusheela's relative luxuries as compensation. Asha Devi left the house only two or three times a year, to see her mother. The rest of the time she lived as a virtual servant in her in-law's home.
3.4.3 Division of Labour
The separate worlds of men and women in a purdah society involve a sharp division of labour. Within most residential units, work is divided, with males typically earning a living outside the family home, while females take charge of the domestic sphere. One of the major consequences of this highly specific and strict division of labor is that it leads to a high degree of interdependence between men and women.
Among many village families, and in some urban families of the lower socioeconomic groups, women make major contributions to the family resources through their labour in the fields, on construction projects and other tasks. But in most households it is the males who have prime responsibility for providing sustenance to the family.
The purdah system also affects the work loads of women by making some tasks usually associated with housework impossible for them. Male family members often buy the daily food supplies. In villages, children may be sent on some errands by their purdah-observing mothers. In this sense, the purdah system shifts to men some of the work which is elsewhere considered "women's work."
Since the division of labour among women affects the way women use space, it is important to examine the distribution of power within the domestic domain. Usually, when a daughter-in-law enters a household she takes over most of the domestic tasks formerly done by her mother-in-law. At that time, the mother-in-law takes up family tasks outside the home. In a study of Muslim women in Uttar Pradesh there was also a division of household responsibilities among non-Ashraf families who had improved their economic situation. Among such families, the daughter-in-law who was formerly working the oilpress or self-employed as a vendor in the village streets withdrew into purdah to become a prestige symbol while her mother-in-law continued to work outside the home.
3.4.4 Women's Work and Income
In a Pakistani village, where women are secluded, Khan (1976) reports that:
A typical village woman works for fourteen hours on a normal day, i.e. a day outside the hectic harvesting or sowing seasons. Of these fourteen hours, at least five hours a day are spent in animal care, collecting, carrying and preparing fodder. Other major daily activities are milking and churning, cooking and carrying food to the fields. Planting, harvesting and processing seasons intensify the physical chores of the village women. During the wheat harvest for example, women spend about ten hours a day in the fields. They help their husbands in rice transplanting and sowing. Picking cotton and chillies are also major annual activities. Women living in mud houses have to renovate them twice a year after the end of the rainy season.
All these duties are in addition to child-care which is totally the domain of women. Women elsewhere in South Asia carry similar work-loads and work long hours, much longer than males. Nelson cites studies that show that Bangladesh women work between 13.6 to 17.6 hours, while in Uttar Pradesh women worked 17to 18 hours a day.
The extent to which women work in the fields outside the home varies by class, region, type of purdah observed. On the whole, only the poorest women will be seen working in the fields (or in road or construction work in towns and cities). In South Asia there are strong regional differences to be found in the way that women participate in economic activities outside the home. Albrect (1974) maintains that in Peshawar District of Pakistan, it is unheard of women of child-bearing age to do field work. S.Ahmed (1960), talking about Pakistan in general, claims that women's work in sowing and harvesting is as important as that of men's and the largest proportion of the women labour force are in agricultural occupations. In Bangladesh, however, women's labour in fields is rare - it is the exception rather than the rule. Bangladesh women also have one of the lowest reported economic participation in the world. Gulati (1975) points out that there is a definite trend towards higher female participation in work outside the home as one goes from north to south and from east to west in South Asia.
Because of cultural definitions of employment considered appropriate for women, women tend to cluster to a limited range of occupations in the sex-segregated labour market, which have low status and are poorly paid. As a consequence of the concentration of women in a limited range of occupations, women are forced to compete with other women for limited job opportunities and this also has the effect of driving down the wage rate. Largely because of cultural perceptions regarding the mobility of women in the public domain, women have a decided preference for self-employment at home. However, the preference to work at home places these women outside the scope of protectivelegislation and opens them to systematic exploitation. In a study of women in North India, Sharma found that the preference for tailoring in the home forced women to accept much lower remuneration than tailors who sat and stitched in the village shops. As Sharma points out, "women literally pay for their public invisibility;" and, because they have to depend on a male intermediary, they become more vulnerable to exploitation.
3.4.5 Access to Institutions
A.S.Ahmed writes about Pukhtun society in Pakistan:
Women are excluded from traditional and central prestige-conferring Pukhtun institutions such as the council of elders (jirga), the village guest room (hujra), the war party (lakhar) or the sectional chieftainship (maliki). They are even excluded from certain rights accorded them by Islam: for instance, they are given in marriage without their consent, ...literally sold for a straight bride price; ... there is no written marriage contract, they cannot claim any form of divorce compensation, they cannot inherit any land, or divorce their spouse.....They rarely, if ever, go to the market. Men shop and provide household necessities.
Purdah practices have made it difficult for women in South Asia to engage in public, political or economic processes which involve unrelated men, effectively excluding them from village institutions. Any participation in the formal and judicial process of the village is rendered extremely difficult in so far as these processes are public and open.
The sarpanch (chief) of a village in Uttar Pradesh reported with pride that women hardly brought cases to the panchayat (village council). He claimed that he or one of his colleagues would visit a woman with a complaint and would endeavour to persuade her to obtain some kind of settlement outside the panchayat. It would be a source of shame to the community, he said, if women were obliged to come and settle their disputes in a public space.
Women are also excluded from the market economy. The marketing of farm produce is often entirely in the hands of men. The open market has connotations of being an indecent place for women to be in. In Bangladesh, the term "bajarer meye" or "woman of the market," is synonymous with a woman of loose morals. It is also worth noting that the interpretation of the purdah ideal in this part of India debars women from a means of making a small income which is very important in other areas, namely petty trading and hawking. In some parts of India one does see women hawking vegetables and other goods, but this is unusual in northwest India, being totally at variance that women should not be seen conducting business in public.
Women do not visit mosques, where apart from communal prayers, discussions are held about matters affecting day-to-day affairs of the village. Women do not congregate in this manner. The major Islamic feasts are celebrated by men by congregating in the mosque, but the participation of women is limited to cooking for the feast.
In most rural families, education is not considered necessary for females. Often a religious education is the only education a female child receives, as knowledge of the scriptures and religious regulations is considered an asset in a girl of marriageable age. The reluctance to educate girls stems from several factors. First, since most marriages in South Asia are virilocal, the education of a girl is a financial loss to her natal family. Secondly a girl's labour in the household and childcare may be very important, especially in families where women have to spend a portion of the day in the fields. It made more sense to educate boys who would remain with their parents and support them in their old age. Also, the absence of schools exclusively for girls in rural areas further hampers their chances of receiving an education. The requirement of young girls to remain within a female environment discourages their school attendance after attaining puberty.
3.4.6 Women's Social Networks
In their separate worlds, women's social networks run parallel to those of men. This informal network acts as a support group and helps women to overcome emotional, social or economic crises. The rich-poor client-patron relationships are part of this network. Women must learn to manipulate this network and teach this skill to their daughters. Vreede de Stuers notes that,
"Women of any country have a world of their own that remains terra incognita to the men because they do not and can never know its rules. Yet every girl automatically learns these rules as she grows up, and the adult woman perfects them and evolves a network of special feminine relationships from which men are excluded."
Yet women of the purdah society appear more dependant on their social networks than women elsewhere, as often this is the only network that they can fall back upon. Naveed-e-Rahat reports that in NWFP society, the females deal with the basic network of kin relationships. These networks are very complex and it is women who manipulate them. Sinha reports that female networks represent a considerable source of information for arranging marriage matches, assessment of family wealth and keeping track of relatives - information which has a considerable impact on decisions made by men and social relations among them. Thus women, though confined to their private sphere, can exercise considerable influence through their own networks.[ TopOfPage(); ]
3.5 Rural Housing
The typical form of the dwelling in the purdah zone is the courtyard-type house, where rooms open onto a central courtyard, with a closed appearance towards the street. About the Bangladeshi Muslim house, Sattar writes, " The very shape...with its inward facing houses, its bamboo and straw screens ....is an expression of purdah." Contrasting the dwelling form in South India (outside the purdah zone), Rapoport writes, "It is interesting that in South India, where Muslim influence with regard to purdah is less common, the court is used less frequently and the houses are more open."
The elements of a house are either parts of a unified structure or may be structurally independent units grouped together. The arrangement can be compact, as in the hot and dry climate of Pakistan and parts of Northern India, or loose as in the humid climate of Bangladesh.
This housing form is organized on the principle of gender segregation in space. David Mandelbaum writes, "Within the household, men and women often live, for the greater part, in separate places. They sleep in separate rooms or on separate sides of the hut; they relieve themselves in separate fields or locations; they sit apart at all social or religious occasions."
3.5.1 Elements of the House
In general, rural dwellings are seen as being divided into mardana (male) and zenana (female) territories, with control by the respective sex group. (Fig 10 & 11) How strongly marked the separation will be depends on the size of the house and the status of the inhabitants.
Mardana: Men spend most of their time in their own quarters, which occupy the front of the house and are directly accessible from the street. They are usually made up of the baithak, the room where males relax, sleep and receive guests, and the sahan, the transitional open space between the house and the street. The baithak may be a regular room, a separate structure, a platform or a veranda, or among the poor, just a cot set outside the house. There the men talk, smoke, work, lounge, entertain, sleep and a woman rarely sets foot.
In poor households, there may not be a separate room for males, but a symbolic dividing line is achieved by stringing a curtain across the family room. Vreede de Stuers describes a village near Dehli, where most houses consist of one or two simple windowless rooms opening onto the veranda which leads to the inner courtyard. The animals are housed with the family, sometimes alltogether in a single room. If there are two rooms, one is reserved for the women and children, the other for the men and their animals.
The baithak also functions as the status symbol of the household and the wealthier prefer to have a detached baithak. The outer area along with the baithak have storage spaces for agricultural implements and animal fodder. Baithak-cum-gher (cattleshed) is mostly associated with the wealthier farmers; and in many instances non-agricultural families (black-smiths, potters, etc.) combine their baithaks with their workshops. In the villages of Punjab and Baluchistan, there may even be a separate men's house in one part of the locality or in the family compound of a leading villager, where they spend most of their leisure time and are often also reported to sleep. Mumtaz mentions the hujra, a male guest house in the walled tribal villages of NWFP in Pakistan. These tribal clan compounds, which hold upto twenty courtyard houses, are fortified by walls and controlled entrance gates. The hujra is an essential part of every compound, consisting typically of a few guest rooms, a courtyard and a bath. It is normally the first courtyard to be entered from the main gate.
Zenana: The women of the household remain apart in a courtyard and inner rooms where they carry on domestic and child-rearing tasks and in general spend most of their lives. The zenana consists of the interior rooms at the back of the house, the dalan - a covered veranda between the rooms and the aagan (courtyard). The courtyard is used for various household activities like cooking and washing and drying of clothes and grain. The women of thevillage prefer to cook in the open, although an alternative enclosed and sheltered kitchen is provided for inclement weather. In houses with flat roofs, the roof too is used by women for various household activities and to entertain friends. Visual and verbal contact with other women from adjacent terraces is easy and frequent, and supervision of children is facilitated. In compact settlements, roofs are usually connected and women use the roofs as circulation space to visit in the neighbourhood. Sometimes a big curtain is hung on the roof so that visitors of both genders can enjoy the cool night air.
In fair weather the interior open spaces are used by the women for sleeping, while the men often sleep in the sahan or on the street. In winter the baithak is used by men while the women use the interior room or the dalan for sleeping. Married couples usually use one of the rooms in the night or may have a screened secluded corner of the veranda for themselves. The interior rooms are mostly used for storing grains and family belongings.
Men spend most of their time outside the house or in the baithak and come into the courtyard only for specific purposes - "to take his meals, to do necessary chores, to exchange communications, and to share a bed briefly and quietly in the still of the night." On entering the female quarters, men announce their arrival by clearing their throats or calling out so that women may assume respectful poses, keep their faces turned or covered. Men are aware of being in female territory and heap ridicule upon those who spend too much timethere. Messages to women are commonly carried in by children so that the courtyard need not be immobilized by the entrance of an elder male. Women do not encourage the men of the family to linger in their space. It inconveniences them and discomforts any women who may come to visit.
Sanitary Facilities: Toilets are usually absent in the rural houses. The villagers use the fields or growth of shrubs to defecate. Even among the wealthy, toilets are not frequently found in houses.
Amita Sinha, in her study of a village in the urban fringes of Dehli, found that when toilets were present they were often part of the male part of the house, so that if visitors needed to use the facilities, they need not enter the female quarters. (Fig. 12) Men bathe at the village well or the village tank while women use some corner of the house or courtyard. There may be a small screened enclosure for this purpose.
Entrance: Entrances to the house are usually indirect or constructed in a way to obstruct vision into the courtyard, emphasizing the separation of public and private domains.
In some areas the entrance is an enclosed space known as the deodhi, where men wait before being permitted to enter the zenana. Usually houses also have back or side entrances which are used by the women. Often there are doors directly leading into neighbour's houses, so that women can visit each other without having to use the public streets. (Fig. 13)
3.5.2 Evolution and Organization of Dwellings
Houses in village and rural settings are usually not completely built all atonce, but over an appreciable period of time. Construction is phased, as rooms are built to meet the additional requirements of the growing family and as finance permits. This development process is thus an organic one; as the family grows so does the house.
More than one household may occupy one house, while retaining separate cooking spaces. Such households are usually closely inter-related. In this case family units are arranged around a common courtyard; the baithak too is shared by the households.
The size and form of the house varies according to affluence. A rich family's house would probably have specific rooms for the various activities. A poor family may survive within a walled compound with a single room and a courtyard shared equally by man and beast while the houses of the more affluent have a more elaborate layout; in both cases the essentials are same. (Fig. 14 and 15)
3.5.3 Organization of the Village
Mumtaz mentions that in the feudal villages of Punjab and Sindh land is the basis for the feudal society prevailing there. Traditionally no member of the labouring and artisan class was allowed to own land. Almost every village has a distinct sector or precinct set apart for these occupational classes. In addition it is not uncommon to find the sector of villages occupied by the land-owning classes, further sub-divided into neighbourhoods or mohallas, each associated with the ethnic group, tribe or clan of its inhabitants. Inmany villages of the plains, the dark angular form of burnt brick structure towers over the humbler sun-dried earth huts of peasants, symbolising the domination of the landlord over the country around. The vast difference between rich and poor is in direct contrast to the tribal villages in NWFP and Baluchistan where villages usually consist of clan compounds with none of the individual houses displaying any discernible marks or symbols of social distinction. This reflects the tribal egalitarianism, manifest in every aspect of tribal custom.
Sinha also indicates that social relations in a village shape housing pattern and settlement form. The neighbourhoods in the village that she studied were kinship clusters and displayed a close congruence between the spatial distribution of the houses and kinship ties.
3.5.4 Purdah and Public Space
The public and private worlds in a village can be equated with male and female spheres respectively. Public areas in general are considered to be male preserves and women's use is conditional to necessity and discretion. Their demeanour in public areas is marked with self-consciousness and hesitation. Sharma writes,
Women experienced a sense of unease in public places which was sufficient to inhibit their behaviour. The sense of being "out of place"... is enough to ensure that women go about their business discreetly and then return home briskly when it is done. Their appearance in public is conditional - upon discreet behaviour and having some specific business. They cannot use the public space in the casual manner permitted to men.
In the village, public areas are graded according to their "publicness," which determines their degree of use or avoidance by women. Women experience public space as divided into zones of differential danger or risk. This can be the danger of real or symbolic violation or the risk of losing one's reputation; for women these dangers pose an obstacle to the uninhibited use of public space.
In Harbassi, a village in Punjab studied by Sharma, the areas which women avoided included the bazaar, the grain depot and wholesale vegetable market; the main road which runs right through the village, and is lined with public buildings such as offices, schools, a library, etc. These public areas are acknowledged to be male preserves; women often had to venture into them but would not linger there longer than their business obliged them to. The bazaar, specially, is felt to hold moral danger for women in the sense that they invite sexual attention from men, which can result in teasing, rude remarks and bold staring. Women will often take circuitous paths to visit, rather than take a busy main road or bazaar.
The network of back alleys between the bazaar and the main road was felt to be less public and women did not mind being seen there. Most could reach the houses of friends or kin via these backstreets without crossing the more public areas. These lanes were freely used as they did not have the same inferior moral connotations as the bazaar. Similarly, the footpaths and bylanes which linked the village with its surrounding hamlets were also felt to be less dangerously public for women, even though they were quite public in the sense that anyone could use them.
Agricultural land is social space of yet another type. Many women are obliged to work in the fields. Sharma found that the wives of rich farmers would sometimes visit their estates either for relaxation or to help their husbands to supervise operations. These outings were not undertaken very often, but there was a feeling that one's land was so much a projection of one's own domestic space that one had as much right to be seen there as one had in one's own courtyard.
Another category of social space which is evaluated in quite a different way is the jungle. The term "jungle" refers to any uncultivated ground; it need not be actual forest. This space is used for a number of purposes, such as grazing and collection of fodder for cattle and collection of fuel. As these are predominantly female activities, women are obliged to use this space, but there is a feeling that the jungle is not a good place to linger in and that it is potentially dangerous. In essence, her own home is the only place where a woman is safe. She ventures outside this private space at her own risk.
There are a few spaces outside the home that are essentially women's spaces. If women frequent a path to the well, it becomes "private" or women's path. Men are supposed to avoid using it specially during the time women use it. This is one of the few public spaces where women are relatively free and uninhibited and where they congregate to gossip and socialize. A similar social space in Bangladesh is the pond where women bathe and wash clothes.
Women effectively take their walled courtyards with them when they venture out in a veil. It is a logical supplement to the use of enclosed living spaces and enables women to move out of these spaces in a kind of portableseclusion. The burqa is less used in rural areas. The usual way of observing purdah in the village is by a strict dress code where the head and breasts are covered by a piece of cloth or the end of the sari, often pulled forward to obscure the face - this is known as ghungat. If a woman must go out to work on the fields or to fetch water, her demeanour is so reserved, that it is as effective as wearing a burqa. As Ruth Woodsmall notes, "Although women in Pakistan rural areas mostly do not wear the burqa, the purdah psychology of segregation has prevailed, and conservatism, which dominates the life of village girls and women, is a positive force." Papanek describes two villages in Punjab studied by Zekiye Eglar in 1960, where women wore burqas only when they went out of the village. In the Bangladesh villages studied by McCarthy, on the other hand, the observance of purdah restrictions was much more stringent. Women were supposed to remain within the bari (homestead), where their household tasks lay. Between puberty and old age they were not to be seen by strangers, and therefore wore the burqa when leaving the bari.
Public spaces are often enclosed so that secluded women may move in them as if they were private. Vehicles can be equipped with curtains, and separate compartments set aside in trains and buses. Bangladeshi rural women travel in covered and curtained oxcarts or boats, or curtained rickshaws.
Several writers have mentioned the temporal zoning of public space, where the use of space shifts diurnally for men and women. Vreede de Stuers describes a village named Okhla near New Dehli, which she visited in the late afternoon, "when most household chores had been finished and before the animals came home prior to Magreb (evening) prayers. At this time of day the village appearedto belong to the women alone; the men were still at work in the fields or elsewhere. The women were uncovered and they did not veil themselves when they left their compound to visit another house. When all the men return towards the time of the evening prayer, the village retains its masculine appearance. The easy atmosphere among women yields to the relaxation of the men."
In describing the temporal zoning in the use of public space in walled compounds of tribal villages of Peshawar district (Pakistan), Mumtaz writes,
A network of narrow lanes runs between the two gates at the opposite ends of the sector. Each gate, with heavy wooden doors, controls the entrances to the sector from two parallel streets. Within the walls the women move about freely, but any male, not a member of the family is strictly forbidden entry. Even clansmen may not enter a street within the walled sector unannounced. They are often preceded by a small boy calling out "take shelter" and only when the women have moved out of sight will an adult male proceed through the street.[ TopOfPage(); ]
3.6 Summary of Findings
The lives of women in South Asia are governed by the institution of purdah at all levels. Purdah has many variations. The physical expressions of purdah are the concept of separate living quarters for women (zenana), veiling with an enveloping garment (burqa/chadar), covering of the face (ghunghat) and separate or curtained facilities and transportation. More enduring is the invisible purdah that restricts a woman's activities and regulates her behaviour, both in private and public spaces. Depending on the age and status of a woman, the institution of purdah affects her activities, mobility, opportunities for income, social relations and access to institutions. All this in turn affects her use of space.
The house, the neighbourhood and the village all are arranged in a hierarchical sequence of spaces which determine the extent of their use by women. The public and private spaces in a settlement can be equated with maleand female spheres respectively. Women's private domain is their domestic space in the rural courtyard house. The courtyard house in South Asia is ideal in adapting to the social norms of purdah. In the walled courtyards women can be effectively screened from men while carrying on their various indoor and outdoor activities without hindrance. Inside their homes they are uninhibited, except before men they have to observe purdah from, and relatively free to socialize with other women.
The use of public space by women, however, depends on necessity and discretion. Women experience public space as divided into zones of danger or risk and their use or avoidance of such space depends on their category. Although women are not excluded from public spaces, they cannot use public space in the casual manner permitted to men.
The literature review yielded varied and interesting data about segregation of women in South Asia and their living patterns. However, information of how these patterns relate to the use of space was often found to be indirect or incomplete. This necessitated a field study which would study these patterns in the setting of a rural community and provide a more comprehensive and detailed report of how purdah practices affect space use by women.[ TopOfPage(); ]