Women at Basant Festival in Nizamuddin Dargah: A Photo Essay

An edited version of this story was published on Huffington Post titled, Photo Essay: The Silent, Shadowy Women At Nizamuddin Dargah.


 As part of my continuing efforts to travel around India and within each big city to explore questions of gender and space, gender segregation of public space and women in the travel and tourism industry, and document my experience through photographs, I went to see the Basant Festival at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah with the objective of capturing the gender representation there. The images I got also carries religious angle. (More on my gender and travel related posts on my travel blog SWBT)

Every year on Basant Panchmi, the Holy Nizamuddin Dargah gets enveloped in yellow color to celebrate the everlasting legacy of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Lovers & devotees of Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia and Qawwaal singers, dress up in yellow and wear Basanti. You can read more about it on Scroll.In. The festival has become one of the major attraction for history and culture enthusiasts and tourists who want to explore Delhi in various ways. Every year, news magazines write about the festivals, photography clubs hold photo walks and walker groups hold history walks during the festival at Nizamuddin.

None have explored the gender question of the festival.

Let my photographs speak to you on the gender question then. Allow me to express the gender, space and religion problem I identified. The most striking thing about the Basant festival was how they have excluded women from the celebrations. While the whole Dargah is engulfed in colour Basanti (yellow) and devotees sing songs in celebrations, it is actually the men who do this. Men appear on the center stage (the open area facing the Dargah where the qawwallis are sung) looking important and enthusiastic in their yellow and white attire…

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…while the women are sidelined, wearing black burqas, sitting separately away from the center stage.

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There were many small boys also dressed in yellow and white sitting at the center stage signifying how they will take the reigns when they grow up. Such visual representation of patriarchy.

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Little boys dressed in similar attire as male adults.

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The men’s prayers are heard on loudspeakers and large group of men pray together in a sign of unity and solidarity with fellow human but women are not part of it. They are seen reading their prayer books silently sitting away from men. Similar gender segregation of spaces within a religious building, a public space was also seen in Vashisht temple in Manali.

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In this context a friend recently said, “So there are some religious reservations about women, let it be. Why a lot of the feminism is focused on trying to bring notional changes while ‘real’ issues of violence, illiteracy are not being addressed? Women’s right to enter temple or Dargah are mere notional changes.”

So let me explain why notional changes are important, though I think its unfortunate that feminists are constantly made to feel guilty of their demands and have to give justifications and explanations. Firstly, change is a 360 degree approach, one change is not more important than others. Secondly, notions and ideologies are at the root of social rules and values, aren’t they? Unless you hit at the ideologies how can you bring an overall change?

Lastly, the thing I couldn’t capture in a photo was the male voices at the start of the namaaz saying, “Ladies log ko hatalo, namaaz shuru hone wala hai” (Remove the ladies, prayer is about to start) ‪#‎GenderAndSpace‬‪#‎GenderAndReligion‬ ‪#‎NizamuddinDargah‬ ‪#‎basantutsav #photofeature

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One Comment Add yours

  1. This was one amazing blog post. Keep up the wonderful work. You’ve managed to highlight the idea of separate spaces brilliantly. If we view the whole idea of women hell bent on forcefully entering the religious places prohibited to them nowadays, it isn’t effective unless the root problems (say, ideology) isn’t looked at, or transformed. So, your idea of “notional change” seems relevant in that context!
    During my visit to the Dargah, it was unsetting to see women occupying the space right outside the sanctum sanctorum, with a desperation of sorts. But then, I myself was fine with paying my respects from outside, with no urge to barge inside. Peek a boo-ing was’nt boring for me, I guess. 🙂
    Do read my account on the Dargah-
    https://pedestrianraga.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/down-the-mystical-alley-in-dilli/
    And keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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