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Here's Why South Asian Women Are Uploading Photos Of Themselves At Dhabas

"Girls At Dhabas" is a movement to reclaim public spaces for women.

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When Karachi-based dhaba-frequenter Sadia Khatri posted a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #girlsatdhabas, someone suggested she start a series.

Girls At Dhabas / Via girlsatdhabas.tumblr.com

She with her friend Sabahat Zakariya started a Tumblr called "girlsatdhabas" where they curate photo submissions sent in by Desi women who, like them, love to hit the dhaba for hot chai served in questionably washed cups.

A dhaba is a roadside food and tea stall.

Soon, women from different parts of South Asia began sending in their selfies by direct submission, or by hashtagging them #girlsatdhabas on Twitter and Instagram.

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Khatri's motivation to start the hashtag was to reclaim dhabas as a safe space for women. Like several other public spaces, they are typically frequented by men or by women accompanied by men.

"The idea was to reappear on the streets. Access to public spaces is restricted by class and gender primarily. Dhabas are just one place," Khatri told BuzzFeed in an email.

"We'd like to see more women on the streets and in spaces we are not traditionally thought to occupy. It's not just what spaces we occupy but how we occupy them, and social media is also an extension of that public space," she further said.

Moreover, Khatri said the reason women feel discouraged to hit the dhabas also has to do with the fact that they don't usually see other women there.

"The women we do see on the streets are usually women belonging to the lower class. And then there are spaces where you don’t see any women at all: roadside hangouts, khokhas, nayi ki dukaan (the barbershop), paanwalas, so on.

Women aren’t supposed to loiter. It just isn’t something we think we can do, and when/if someone does, it makes people uncomfortable. There is also the aspect of safety, and we emphasise on safety first, but there are ways to manage that. Go in a crowd, go in a familiar area, don’t stand out," she told us.

The curators of Girls At Dhabas say one of the main goals feminists advocate for is freedom of mobility, and an initiative like this takes a step towards that by doing the groundwork the theory aims for.

Khatri, who is an astronomy and journalism undergrad, says that gaining awareness, unlearning gender and identity, and understanding how patriarchy work are the first steps in the process of becoming a feminist.

"But how do we move from awareness and discussion (which I see happening increasingly in desi feminist circles, and that’s great) - to actually grappling with existing power structures? By actual tangible steps closest to home, such as populating spaces we can access. It increases visibility of women in new spaces, or in familiar spaces in new ways; it makes women rethink what they can’t do; it aids desi feminists in moving towards one of their main goals: mobilising women," she told BuzzFeed India.

"We can’t end patriarchy and capitalism overnight, but we can make dents, even if within our small, niche circles," says the curator.

The blog has so far featured photos mostly from women in Lahore and Karachi, from women travelling up northern Pakistan, and from those who've heard about it on Facebook or from friends.

Most of these are college students, and women in their 20s and 30s.

Girls At Dhabas is mainly a blog for women living in South Asia but submissions from every region are welcome.

Click here to submit directly to the Tumblr, or here to send photos to their Facebook page. You can also hashtag photos with #girlsatdhabas on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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