This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by India Fellow Social Leadership Program. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Stealing Moments, Creating Spaces: A Sneak Peek Into The Lives Of Women In Madaar

More from India Fellow Social Leadership Program

Picture this setting.

A rough-hewn floor in a small courtyard fenced in by grey walls about 8ft high. The sun has set over another long day and the stars are just coming out to play. A circle of women, aged between 17 and 87, squat around in a loosely formed circle in various states of repose, their purdahs down, their manner relaxed.

A single bulb, hanging by the side forms a halo behind some of them. Impromptu singing breaks out, even as smaller conversations continue in the background. One of them whispers something and someone else laughs. Of course, there is still work to be done; cows still have to be fed, the chulah (stove) has to be set up and homework needs to be finished. But for now, in this twilight zone, tranquillity reigns.

This was where I found myself a few days ago, in the village of Madaar, a peri-urban settlement near the city of Udaipur. I had gone with the intent to understand the role that leisure plays in women’s well-being, in a rural setup. As one would guess, here was my answer. And it was, just not in the way one would assume.

To an outsider, these women would probably look idle, but a closer look reveals a more nuanced story. Conversations flow but the cows are still being fed, the singing forms a backdrop to the tending of the chulah and the gobar is gathered even as the laughter ensues. In other words, the work never stops.

The dictionary defines leisure as a time period when one is not working or occupied; as free time. But here in Madaar, this limited definition was challenged time and again, with every interaction I had, across every class, every community I met.

Leisure, for a fair amount of women in Madaar, is tightly intertwined with work.

Several times, while walking through the gallis (streets), we would spot small groups of women working on embroidery on their doorsteps. When approached, they’d often say that they don’t have the time to engage with us. “Abhi nahi, abhi hum kaam kar rahein hain”(Not now, we’re working right now) was a common refrain.

Yet, upon walking away, you would see them laughing or engaged in quiet animated conversation. It’s hard to define if this is work or leisure. On one hand, it is work (the embroidery being done for Sadhna, a livelihood generation intervention run exclusively for women), on the other, it is a way of de-stressing and recharging. It occupies some in-between zone, much like the spaces these women occupy to do so.

In many ways, their expression is limited by the restrictions placed on them by the male members of their family. Free time or “time-pass” is not seen as a womanly activity. Some think a woman’s life is too busy to accommodate leisure, while others seem to view this as something shameful (but only when done by women).

As one man put it, a woman enjoying herself freely or engaging in time pass would bring shame to the family. “Yeh khelegi ya time pass karegi toh sasuraal ko sharm laayegi”, declared one erstwhile father-in-law (If she plays or passes time, she will embarrass her in-laws).

Women of Madaar
In their own subtle ways, the women of Madaar are quietly claiming spaces for their own.

Many more are bound by their weak economic conditions. Holding down multiple jobs cuts into any sort of free time one may aspire for. Between working in the fields, doing smaller income-generating jobs and the never-ending grind of housework, leisure doesn’t really find a footing. They are just too busy. So are the men. Yet, they seem to be able to carve out time for “time-pass” every day. While several all-male groups dot Madaar’s many chabutras (platforms under trees), joking around in the late afternoon shade, there are no such spaces for women. In a community that follows purdah, it is considered shameful if the women do the same.

Yet, in their own subtle ways, the women of Madaar are quietly claiming spaces for their own. “Mann Ki Shaanti” or quietude is snatched in all the in-between moments during the day.

Women share about meeting in the afternoons at each others’ homes for chaas (buttermilk) and conversations, a moment stolen for themselves while the men are at work or asleep and the children still at school. Stories emerge about sitting on their chatts (terraces) and sharing conversations and songs over rooftops as they finish prepping the vegetables for the day to come; the beats set to the rhythmic chopping of kaddu.

Or of listening to music over the radio while making dinner. Children interject with “Mummy toh masti karti hai kyunki roz shaam ko gaana bajati hai” (Mother enjoys herself and plays songs in the evening). A revolving door of women keeping dropping by, always between chores, to engage with us and as they talk, you detect a sense of longing when they talk about their bachpan (childhood) about playing with gudiyas and gotis and of meeting their friends unperturbed.

The longing persists when the talk turns to visiting their maayka (maternal home), the one place where they can put their feet up and relax for a few precious moments.

An older woman smiles her toothless smile as she proclaims, “the best moment of the day is in the afternoon when you know you have finished all your work for the morning and can rest without any worries.” Rest, of course, comes by very rarely. Most afternoons disappear in a blur of more work. But despite this, the women of Madaar are quietly stealing their moments, creating their spaces and building their bonds. And I’m just grateful to have borne witness to a few such moments.

About the author: Aakanksha Jayasheela is a 2019 India Fellow, placed with Azad India Foundation in Kishanganj, Bihar as a part of her fellowship. She is working with the school administration to strengthen their performance as educators and supporting the team with overall program management. Aakanksha loves to surround herself with children.

You must be to comment.

More from India Fellow Social Leadership Program

Similar Posts

By Soubhagya Daspattanayak

By Amya Roy

By Shirley Khurana

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below