January issue 2016

By | Profile | Published 4 years ago

Sadia Khatri’s base is literally a basement in her friend’s house. Red and white jute fairylights are strung above a mattress covered in a maroon bedsheet and laden with cushions. In front of the vaulted window are wooden crates stacked like a shelf, filled with books.

The base is the perfect place to plan the next feminist takeover of Karachi. As Sadia pours out tea from a theliinto cups, we sit back and talk about the much-covered ‘Girls at Dhabas’ movement. The next phase of the plan is setting up a feminist book club and linking up with a movement called, ‘Why Loiter?’

“I think reading and educating oneself are also part of activism; consequently we are getting the book club to read feminist texts,” she says. The book club is named ‘A Room of Her Own,’ after one of Virginia Woolf’s essays in which she writes, “Give her a room of her own and 500 a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.”

For Khatri, the movement #girlsatdhabas started when she shared pictures of herself in dhabas from when she was interning at The Kathmandu Post, a newspaper in Kathmandu, Nepal. When asked why she used the word ‘girls’ and not ‘women,’ she said, “We are reclaiming the word ‘girls’ because this is fun and light; we are making a point that while this is intended as a serious movement, it does not require you to take to the streets to register your protest.” As someone who has sat at a dhaba and been subjected to a fair number of stares, I have found that this quiet way of asserting your right to be in a male-dominated space makes a huge statement.

Since the start of the hashtag campaign earlier this year, Khatri has received submissions from young women all over the world, who have broken stereotypes in their own unique ways. From travelling alone to enjoying a cup of tea at a dhaba in India or elsewhere, the movement has carved a niche for itself on the internet and beyond.

Khatri has connected herself to movements that are similar to ‘Girls at Dhabas.’  One of them is ‘Why Loiter?’ — a movement that was started by Shilpa Padke in 2009. It is about young women reclaiming public space through activities like cycling, or by just hanging out like men do with no repercussions. Khatri is currently having her friends send in pictures of themselves ‘loitering,’ i.e. walking in parks or hanging out on the streets. Sitting at adhaba would count as one such activity, but for Khatri, simply the act of having a cup of tea in a place of her own choice is an act of rebellion.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2016 issue.