|(Photo: The Hindu)|
Every evening Yasmeen Khan steps out of her house in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area towards a paradise where she can inhale fresh air, exercise and gossip with friends.
A short distance from her house is a 10-foot-high stone wall. Behind which is a “Pardah Bagh” where she can remove her 'burqa' and 'hijab' (veil), exercise and gossip with friends.
Hundreds of women regularly visit the Bagh, a park as large as a football field, exclusively for women and children.
The women's park in Nizamuddin is being maintained by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, a non-profit group which has been working with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to redevelop the Nizamuddin slum area for the past five years.
"The concept of a 'Pardah Park' has existed in traditional Muslim societies across the world," said Shveta Mathur, an architect and the program officer for the trust.
"However, this is the first such park in Delhi that is well developed and extensively used by the community."
Khan said she used to feel locked up inside her one-room, ground floor house because she would not leave her home alone.
"I only went out when my husband came back home early in the evening. I craved for some open air, as did my children."
The Nizamuddin slum is a densely populated settlement that has spread across 13 acres of land in South Delhi.
It has 15,000 residents and a transient population of at least 10,000 more, according to a survey conducted by the Aga Khan Trust earlier this year.
Because of the dense population and faulty sanitation, tuberculosis and asthma are common.
"During community meetings we realized that many women wanted open spaces in their neighborhood and the freedom to be able to go there," said Mathur, who also is an urban planner.
"The green stretch of the park is a bit of a solace in the ever-busy, overcrowded slum," said Jahaanarah, a 32-year-old woman who said she only goes by her first name and who frequents the park with her four children.
The park is divided in two parts, and the area farthest from the road has been turned into a children's play area.
"The kids fight all the time to use swings and slides first," said Mumtaz Begum, the 42-year-old caretaker of the park. The other part has exercise equipment for the women to use, including a thigh-firming machine.
"Women come here to be burqa-free in open air," said Begum, "but also to exercise. They are all health conscious."
Farida Khannum, a professor of Islamic history at the Dr. Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, said the women's-only park is a welcome addition to Delhi.
Khan says "Life used to be hell when relatives came to our tiny home in large numbers," she said. "Today I have an escape from every frustration and sorrow. I come here and forget the world."
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