Bhamini Lakshminarayan | M2015MC013
Dr. Jonathan Anjaria
Ways of Knowing: Qualitative Methods

15 September, 2015

The Smoking Woman: An Ethnography of Women, their Cigarettes,
and their Spaces

It was a particularly slow day at the juice shop outside the main campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. In the diffused light of the setting sun, there was none of the comforting cacaphony that develops when dozens of tired students make their way into the respite of the Real World; the world in which they are allowed to be politically incorrect, laugh loudly, covertly roll joints, and – as is common to many in high-stress situations – smoke. This particular evening was a strange one, thus – that is, until I realised that it was a Sunday evening, with most students catching up on their quota of sleep for the week ahead. I, however, had half a dozen texts to read for the next morning, and was, thus, both stress smoking and stress eating. I finished my cigarette in record time, and was procrastinating my eventual return to the library, when I couldn’t help but notice the girls sitting on the steps of one of the two ATMs located on that stretch of road. They had both lit up cigarettes, and seemed to be companionably smoking. I looked at them for as long as I could without seeming like a voyeour, and then mustered up the courage to go talk to them.

“Excuse me,” I said, “Do you mind if I speak to you for a few minutes?” I explained that I had a class assignment that I thought they could help with. This method of participant interaction would seem to be common at the Institute, for they didn’t question my motives, and immediately invited me to join them. Before I could get a word in, though, one of them put her bangled arm out and touched my on mine. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, waving her cigarette as an indication of what she meant. I had to laugh, and explain to them that it was their very act of smoking which had interested me in the first place. At this, they seemed interested enough to talk to me further.

They introduced themselves as V and S, but requested that if I was submitting any sort of official record of the interaction, that I leave their full names out of the report. When I asked why, they shrugged and eventually arrived at the conclusion that smoking was their personal business, and they didn’t want the Institute involved in it, indicating the fear of a possible backlash for their personal habit. They did not seem to be ashamed of their occupation of the public space for the purpose of smoking, though. V, dressed in a printed salwaar kameez, including a dupatta, periodically sipping from a tiny plastic cup of coffee, and pushing up her glasses, and S, in her T-shrt and shorts, who kept glancing at her smartphone, told me that they met there every evening to smoke one cigarette together and catch up on their respective days.

Women Who Smoke Cigarettes in India

Googling “Indian Woman Smoking” results in its own genre of porn.

Women who smoke cigarettes in India have been routinely villianised, harrased, and sexualised without their consent. In old Bollywood movies, the overtly “vampy” female would smoke, but not the “good girl” who won out at the end of the film. A search on YouTube turns up dozens of videos of “Sexy Indian college girl smoking.” Intrigued by this, I Googled “Indian women smoking porn” and found that there was, in fact, a type of pornography that capitalised on this idea. I have  included a screenshot of the results of this search to share my horror at the idea.

Thus, when tasked with the prospect of having to conduct an ethnographic study for a particular course, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to collect more narratives, and to see whether my own experiences of being a woman smoking cigarettes in public were isolated with respect to those that other women have faced. In this study, I focussed on the lane that is right outside the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Chembur. This is because it is an area that is bustling with activity. Most students, who are not first year Grad School students, live in the hostel. When tired of the food they receive in the Dining Hall, the mill around the juice shop located on this lane, which also serves sandwiches at chaat after 6pm. The lane also houses two ATMs (one of which never really works), a chemist, a pastry shop, and a couple of smallers ones that are less frequented by the student crowd, such as a plastic goods store. A housing complex called Daffodils is located amidst all of this noise, and angry drivers often honk at the students that mill at the shop right next to its gate – the panwallah. This panwallah is conveniently located next to a makeshift kiosk that sells vada pav, bhajia pav, and samosa pav, and next to this culinary paradise is a chai-wallah who never seems to run out of hot, spicy chai. The panwallah, vada-pav wallah, and chai-wallah all illegally occupy the space, and ocassionally remove the plastic taurpalin that functions as their roof and hide their wares when their friends in the police station warn them of an upcoming police survey of the area.

Many of the students who are in this area smoke cigarettes, and I have heard from several students that it was an introduction to the stress of their advanced degrees that precipitated their smoking habits. It is not uncommon to see men and women smoking here, in groups or alone, and it was in this area that I chose to interact with my participants.

Because of the precise location of my ethnography, all of my participants were in some way associated with or affiliated to the Tate Institute of Social Sciences. All of these interviews took place between 1-2pm in the afternoon, or after 6pm in the evening, and over the month of August and the first week of September, because of the limitation of my own academic schedule.

This ethnography does not attempt to draw any conclusions about women who smoke cigarettes. It does not seek to either champion the cause of female cigarette smokers, nor does it seek to villify them. It merely attempts to collect the narratives of a few women, and document one of their uses of a particular public space. Any critique that follows from this will be a critique of the public space, and not of the act of engaging in smoking.

Initially, this study was to include photographs of the women I interviewed. However, several of them did not seem comfortable with the idea of being photographed with a cigarette. I quickly caught on to the idea that, even if women have not been personally harassed for being smokers, they are keenly aware of the possibility. In this same line of thought, I have refrained from using the full names of the interviewees, and have instead chosen to refer to them by the first letter of their given name, when possible, and a randomly assigned alphabet in the event of an overlap.

While, as mentioned, the study does not attempt to create generalisations, it was of particular note to me that all of the interviewees were comfortable with the process of being interviewed by a woman about their smoking habits. One interviewee mentioned to me that this would not be so if it was a man asking her these questions, as it would feel as though it was an invasion of her privacy. Thus, I was made consciously aware of my own biological sex, and the privilege it gave me in gaining access to their stories.

Furthermore, I believe that the very fact that I would also light up a cigarette while I interviewed this women created a sense of safe space. On several ocassions, the women would finish the cigarette they had been smoking and then light up a second one. I believe that my act of participating in their own smoking helped to locate my own space as one that was not judgemental. Several of the women I have interviewed have become my friends, and have asked me to join them for a smoke when I have seen them outside at a later date.

Finally, it seems of no little value that all of the women I have interviewed were absolutely at ease with understanding and communicating in the English language. Even if they would ocassionally use Hindi phrases, or even perhaps spoke Hindi amongst themselves, they were not uneasy about speaking English – a trait that is not common among all students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, but which seemed common to the women I interviewed. I cannot locate this in either my own inherent gravitation towards a certain aesthetic that I am comfortable with, or in the identity of the women themselves who smoke, but I believe that it is a point that can be further considered with respect to the smoking of cigarettes, and ones’ position in the socio-cultural strata of society. This is particularly when one considers that the idea of the “characterless woman with the cigarette in hand” (N, 37) locates only the character of a woman of a certain class who smokes, and not the character of the woman of a lower economic class who smokes chiroots or hookah, a traditionally common practice in several parts of India.

The Women Who Smoke Cigarettes Outside the Tata Institute of Social Sciences

A “Smoker” Identity

There is an inherent assumption that there is a certain “sort of woman” who smokes. With this in mind, I looked for the common traits among the women I interviewed – I looked to see if there was any kind of singular “smoker” identity.

The twelve women interviewed in this study were all above the age of 18, the legal age for the consumption of tobacco. While six are regular students of the Institute, one is a foreign exchange student from France, one is a faculty member, two were visiting professionals who were attending a workshop organised by another department in the Institute, one was a visiting student attending a similar event, and one was a working professional from Bangalore who was visiting a sibling enrolled at the Institute.

A lot of individuals who consider the act of women smoking a blatant violation of an assumed “Indian” culture spend a fair amount of time focussing on the clothing that the women wear – assuming that these women reflect their overall poor character in their choice of clothing. While I do not wish to subscribe to this school of thought by focussing on their clothing, they feel as though it is relevant to note that, of the women interviewed, only five were wearing clothes that would be considered “Western” – the others were all dressed in variations of the attire traditionally worn by a particular section of North Indian women, which has been reappropriated into the “traditional” wear of the Indian woman, the salwaar kameez. At least three were wearing bindis and dupattas along with the cigarettes they held in their hands.

N, a 37 year old woman who usually comes to work in an immaculately co-ordinated salwaar kameez with a dupatta and bindi, agreed that her choice of clothing surprises people when they realise that she’s smoking. B (47) and R (52), visiting professionals who were around 10 years her senior, also noted who important their physical markers were when they were smoking cigarettes in public, with respect to how comfortable they felt doing so. “At my age, I don’t give a fuck,” B said bluntly. “It used to matter [when I was your age],” she admitted. R, with her short, white hair, concurred. “The minute I get off a plane they’re staring anyway,” she said, referring to her hometown of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). “But at my age…”

At which age, then, did these women – and the other women I interviewed – start smoking? With the exception of two students, P (24) and G (21) , who started smoking in high school (the twelfth and the eleventh standard respectively), and L (26) who began smoking after she started to work, these women all began smoking during their college years, either as undergraduate or graduate school students.

Their peer groups seemed to have played an important part in their acquisition of this habit. “Lots of classmates ‘step out’ for a smoke,” said S (22). “It’s a social thing.” Similarly, N started smoking in her PG while she was a masters student of Hyderabad Central University. “You smoke! You drink! I like!” is how N glibly puts her experience, having grown up in a small town and then being exposed to the “vices of the city.” M (21) started smoking while studying engineering in Bangalore. V (22) admitted that she only started smoking after the pressures of her course at the Institute started to make the stress difficult to deal with, but she quickly asserted that she’s attempting to quit before she finishes her course.

Considering the women I spoke to, there seems to be no singular “smoker” identity. The spaces where their identities seem to overlap is their ease with the English language, the time period during which they started smoking (16-21), and their willingness to converse with me. Physically, in their manner of dress and in their body type, as well as behaviourally, in their manner of speech and their level of casual intimacy, they did not seem to be alike. They came across as educated, confident, friendly young women – as “good women” – despite the fact that there are several individuals and organisations who would brand them otherwise.

A “Bad Woman”
It is curious to note what women who currently smoke cigarettes used to think of the act before they engaged in it. Overall, there is some sort of consensus that a woman who smokes is a “bad” woman, and this idea seems to have been one that these women too had to confront when they began smoking.

The first person who brought this up was N (37), who admitted that she used to think that women who smoked were “evil” as a child. She grew up in Chattisgarh, she pointed out, where even the idea of men smoking was horrifying. There were township parties, though, in which she remembers that men and women occupied seperate spaces so the men could drink and smoke in peace. “What about the women?” I asked. N, who laughs a lot, and laughs loudly, did so at this point of time. “[It would have been] unlikely,” was all she had to say.

“When you [my father] quit, I’ll quit,” is what T (21) had to say about the idea of smoking at home. While most parents are unaware of their daughters’ cigarette smoking habits, hers are. Her parents aren’t happy about it, and they aren’t particularly supportive – T seemed to believe that this was because of her gender. “Dad smokes with my cousin,” she argued. Her older, male cousin has been smoking cigarettes – and smoking them with her father – ever since he went to his undergraduate college.

B (47), who works in a feminist organisation, is accutely aware of this mould that she is cast into when she smokes a cigarette. “The smoking women,” she said to me, taking a drag on her cigarette after borrowing a lighter from a friend of mine. “There’s this association with promiscuity.”

G (21) talked about an “Army man” who used to watch her and her friends smoke. “‘It doesn’t look nice when girls smoke,’ he would say.” She told me about a time at a chai shop where, while she was smoking with her friends, a man loudly stated that “women these days splurge on sutta and daaru.” At this point, G’s friend turned around, tapped him on the shoulder, and pointed out that he, too, was smoking. She proudly recounted how her friend had spoken to the man for twenty minutes about how both men and women smoke, and how it’s a waste of money for both of them, and a pollution of a public space that both of them occupy.

Several of the women reported instances in which they weren’t allowed to spend their money at all, and they locate this refusal of sale within the context of their gender. V (22) told me about a time in her hometown of Chennai (formerly known as Madras) where the panwallah “refused to sell” her cigarettes until she “refused to leave.” G (21) and L (26) too spoke of times in Delhi and Bangalore when panwallahs had refused the sale of cigarettes to them. In Chennai, V explained, only the very brave are comfortable with being painted as the bad women who smokes.

A “Bad Woman’s” Body
Many of the women expressed the feeling that they were perceived as “bad women” in part because of the known impact that smoking can have upon the reproductive system. Though the health consequences of smoking are grave for both women and men, and contribute in no small part to several cancers, several of them spoke of experiences in which they were warned only about cigarette smoking’s impact on their reproductive health.

When asked why her boyfriend didn’t like her smoking, P (24) admitted that she suffers from asthama, but that, “knowing him” it probably also had something to do with her reproductive capabilities. Q (21) told me of a time that a boy she was interested in discovered that she was a smoker. “He asked me: ‘Do you like children?’ I played dumb and said that I do, but not my own.” When he persisted, she stopped pretending as though he didn’t know what she was driving at, and asked him if this was “about her uterus.” “He said yes, and I was like, ‘What the fuck!’” she expostulated with a laugh.

G (21) told me about a park that she used to smoke cigarettes in with her friends in Delhi. She said that a woman once walked into the park and told them about the impact of cigarettes on their reproductive health. “She refused to leave until we put them out!”

B (47) admits that she used to get warned about the health hazards of smoking all the time. “But they’re my lungs, my ovaries,” she protested. She adopted a daughter, though, so the protests about the impact on her ovaries have stopped, she laughingly told me. “She knows that I smoke,” she admitted. “I don’t want her to think that there’s any such thing as an ‘ideal mother’ or the ‘ideal woman.’”

A Space to Smoke

N (37), has spent many years smoking. She pulled her earphones out of her ears as I sat down across her table, and listened  to me as I described my area of interest with respect to this ethnographic study. As my first interviewee, she listened to me stumble through my explanation with the patience that only an academic who is used to guiding wayward graduate students posessesses. The things that she said to me helped to frm the ultimate shape that this paper would take. While I was initially afraid that she would be somehow offended by my asking her these questions, particularly since she was a faculty member, she responded with full honesty and forthrightness to the questions I tentatively posed before her.

“It feels like I’m laying a claim to a space,” she admitted, when describing the act of public spaces. “There’s this constant awareness and fear. I’m aware of my physicality – I grew up in a middle class family, in a small town; I’ve been conditioned to be hyperconscious. So you nee to condition yourself to ignore conditioning. Smoking cigarettes is like an act of defiance to everything you’re taught when you’re young.”

She isn’t a “compulsive” smoker, though. When she and her husband visit her mother-in-law in Hyderabad, they’re “good children,” – her mother-in-law doesn’t know that either of them drink or smoke. It’s because she can control this urge to smoke that she’s comfortable not smoking at home – her neighbour is a “creepy” man who regularly walks into their area of the property, and a “family man” to boot. She only ever smokes outside T.I.S.S, she said, or when she goes to South Mumbai (referred to sometimes as “Town.”)

T (21) doesn’t have the luxury of smoking in her PG at all. “My beautiful balcony is being wasted,” she laments. Her roommates have a moral opposition to smoking, she claimed, because of which they discourage her from smoking outside their shared room as well.V (22) and S (22) used to smoke in the flat in which they lived in together last year – six flatmates, all women, had shared a 2bhk apartment. V and S made sure to inform me that they were very considerate about their smoking habit – they left the balcony window open, and only ever smoked in the hall. The reason they made this clear became evident when they go on to tell me that one flatmate reported their smoking habit to the broker in the second semester, without ever confronting them about it directly. The offended/offensive flatmate had claimed that she was allergic, “but she smoked pot,” S dismissed. V went on to vehemently protest that it’s “not the kind of thing you tell brokers.” What if, she hypothesised, their parents visited, and the broker informed them of their smoking habits? V went on to shake her head, and admitted that she doesn’t even speak to that girl anymore.

V admitted, though, that she never smokes in Andheri. When asked why, she clarified that the hospital in which she does her field work is located in Andheri, and that her particular area of field work is in substance abuse. For her patients or employers to see her smoking would damage, not just her credit, but the rapport she had built with them, she said.

V (22), S (22), P (24), all live on campus at the moment. Their current smoking location, they told me, is within campus, but they requested that I not document it so as to prevent any kind of institutional action against them. They all smoke outside the institute, in their secret spot on campus, and when they leave Chembur to go to Town.

B (47) smokes at home, but doesn’t do it if her daughter’s in the same room. “She knows I smoke, but I don’t want her lungs to be filled with my bad habits.” B admits that, even at her age, she consciously seeks out public spaces that are not entirely visible to the public – for instance, when I spoke to her, she stood on a small path behind a line of trees that seperated us from the road, and not on the road in itself.

Q (21), G (21), and O (20) all smoke in the appartments they currently live in. Q never smokes in her hometown of Chandigarh, though, and G is constantly nervous when smoking in her hometown of Delhi. O, however, feels far more comfortable smoking in her home country of France. “Smoking in public places is banned, but we can smoke on the roads, or in parks, and nobody looks at you,” she said, drawing an interesting distinction between the public and the private space, which sounds heavy with the class implication of the protection of lungs from passive smoke only in those privatised public spaces in which market-based consumption occurs.

L (26), a working professional from Bangalore who came to visit a student, has a different perception of public spaces. As someone who was born and brought up in Bangalore, but whose parents no longer live there, one would assume a certain level of comfort in her environment. But when asked where she smokes there, she said “At home or in upscale restaurants or bars. Never in really public places.”

While I met some of these women while they were smoking alone, most of them women do not really engage in smoking cigarettes when they are without company. If they do, they attempt to look busy or purposeful. This is in line with the feminist argument articulated by Phadke et al (2011), in that a woman in India does not have the right to loiter, or occupy a public place without visibly demonstrating a greater purpose – without making the link between the private spaces that she occupies explicitly clear.

“I sit alone and zone out with my phone,” S said. V rarely smokes alone, and if she does find herself alone, she buys a cigarette and goes home and smokes. Otherwise, she said that she smokes as she walks up and down, or while walking from point A to point B. Neither of them have enjoyed the experience of being women smoking alone; even if they haven’t had particularly bad personal experiences, they told me that they feel very conscious of their bodies and the gaze they have to endure. When I referred to the ideas articulated in Why Loiter, they seemed to be struck by the idea. “I have a new goal,” V said, “I need to smoke alone in public.”

A few of the women expressed the idea that smoking in public invites untoward attention by which they are sexualised without their consent, or they are considered to be more comfortable with social intimacies than they truly are. “It’s a bit of an ice-breaker for a lot of guys,” L (26) nodded. V volunteered that she hates it when she asks for a lighter, and then men lean forward and light her cigarette with the lighter still in their hands. “I can light them for myself,” she said strongly, and S agreed that it was an invasion of her personal space.

A space is a cultural extension of a place, with certain ideas of boundaries that all citizens who occupy that space are expected to adhere to. Finding a space to smoke in, and navigating the gendered boundaries within which both the public and the private space in India are mired in, has proved difficult for these women. The act of smoking appears to be one of a constant resistance against the dominant gendered boundaries that circumvent their public existence.

A “Bad Woman” in Bombay

What happens, though, when people take offense to these women asserting their resistence? What happens when they transgress the cultural boundaries that have been drawn for them, beyond which the act of smoking cigarettes seems to lie? Does Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) even have these cultural boundaries?

V (22) and S (22), do not think Bombay has these gendered boundaries. They expressed the idea that is “safer than any other city in India” for women to smoke in. V only remembered that she had been told off once, by a young “beggar boy.” She recounted how he had “sadly” told her that smoking was bad for her. She touched my knee at that point, and laughingly said that she had been “guilted” into giving him money. When I asked how much, she held up four fingers, indicating a student’s princely sum of Rs. 40. Otherwise, though, they came to the mutual agreement that the space outside the Institute was safe, as were Marine Drive and Town. Most others – Q (21), P (24), B (47), R (52), L (26), G (21) and M (22) – seemed to agree. “I think they’re used to women smoking here [in Mumbai],” Q said.

N (37), though disagrees. Even in Bandra, on a “night out with the girls,” she has felt stared at. “They might not say things to you, but they’re still looking. They’re still judging you and considering your [possession of a] poor character.”

Diving into her own personal experience, N told me of an incident that occured in 2009, in which she was handed a pornographic CD while smoking in the space outside the Institute. A security guard handed her the CD and informed her that her friend had left it behind. She didn’t think much of it, and later casually popped it into her computer to check what it was. “My background affected my reaction,” she admits. She still isn’t sure if it was a deliberate act, or if it was a mistake, but she said that she felt as though “an act of violence [had been performed] on me.” (emphasis mine) Somebody noticed her smoking, she is sure, and used that as a “license to lech.” Her instant response was to break the CD, but it took a long time for her to summon up the nerve to go outside and smoke along again. Even now, when one sees her smoking along outside the Institute, she looks busy and purposeful on her phone.

Last week, I received a Whatsapp message from a friend who claimed to have a story I would like to hear. On meeting up with T (21), she dove into it. “I went out to buy a cigarette at the panwallah, and there was this group of boys dismantling the stage they used for the Janmashtami performance. They started laughing because a ladki was buying a cigarette, and started catcalling me to ask if I was really going to. I bought it, turned, showed it to them, and walked off,” she confided in me.

T is particularly disbelieving of the “myth” of the safe Mumbai. “I’ve never been told off as much as I have in Bombay for smoking,” she claimed. “I don’t understand why people say that Bombay is the safest place in India – the only difference is that I haven’t been raped here, and, well, that didn’t happen in Delhi either.” Trying to draw the conversation back to smoking cigarettes, I asked if there were spaces in which she felt safe doing that. “The only really ‘safe’ place is Marine Drive. If you go to Lower Parel, they stare. Bandra Market is fine because it’s a college crowd, but the inside, as soon as there are people in residential areas, it’s the same as anywhere else. I got told off for smoking Kurla the other day when there were three other men smoking a few feet away from me. An Aunty told me off one afternoon in Chembur right outside college. People have told me off for smoking before, but always one-on-one. [It has] never [been] this kind of public harrassment. Bombay is the centre of Moral Policing in India, so I don’t know why I’m surprised.”

While Mumbai might be a city with greater tolerance for smoking in some areas, it is of note that these areas seem to be located within the epicentre of the consumer culture in the city – South Mumbai, Marine Drive, the area known as “Town.” However, when one steps outside of these spaces, several of these women have felt harrassed, socially shamed and stigmatised for their act of smoking. There seem to be cultural boundaries in several areas of Mumbai, which has become, as T pointed out, an increasingly saffronised space. However, as long as the trains can take them to Town, the relative annonymity that the big city offers these women seems to offer them a sense of comfort and security.


  A few years ago, the feminist filmmaker Madhushree Dutta was booked near the Borivilli train station while trying to buy cigarettes late at night. She was taken to the police station on the accusation of assaulting the police officials who were questioning her occupation of that public space on the grounds of soliciting. In her company was feminist advocate Flavia Agnes, who recounted the sort of questions that Dutta was asked in court – questions that were focussed around her clothing and behaviour in that public space such as the clothes that she was wearing. This was arguably a reaction taken by the police in response to women buying cigarettes late at night, and their preconceived notions of what that entailed. Agnes has gone on to question what rights women in general have with respect to public spaces, when well-informed feminist activists, with the weight of a movement behind them, have also been treated in such a callous way by the institutions that regulate public space.

In Why Loiter (2011), Phadke et al discuss the importance of the “quest for pleasure” within the feminist movement, and its relationship with the more highly prioritised and socially acceptable “struggle against violence.” “The quest for pleasure actually strengthens our struggle against violence, framing it in the language of rights rather than protection…Furthermore, the right to pleasure by default must encompass the right against violence.”

The act of smoking is one of pleasure. While one might not necessarily want to be a smoker, the relationship between the contents of the cigarette and the person smoking it results in a pleasurable experience for the smoker. This is true, at least, for all of the women I interviewed, who all said that they enjoyed their cigarettes – even for those who expressed a desire to quit.

Within this framework, and the framework of resisting a dominant cultural discourse of binary gender roles, the right to equal access of public spaces, as well as the “right to risk” must be considered. The social mechanisms in place which prevent a woman from smoking – shaming, unwanted sexualisation, and threats – have been set in place to maintain the status quo. As earlier stated, I do not wish to valourise the act of smoking. However, I feel as though the right to smoke – and the right to be criticised for it – must be equally distributed between the two sexes.

The women I have spoken to in this paper have expressed the idea that, while men might be warned about their health risks, they do not have to undergo the sort of social backlash that female smokers do. Women who smoke are seen as “bad women,” “evil,” “characterless,” and “loose,” to draw from just a list of words that the women themselves admitted to having been called. The entire act of smoking, from the purchasing of cigarettes from a reluctant panwallah, to the smoking of one in the public gaze (or the private space which, in Mumbai today, is often intruded upon), to the criticism they receive afterwards – be it on behavioural or health grounds – is one that attempts to put a woman back into her place. This place would seem to be one in which they are located as carriers of culture and tradition, and, to do this, must have a healthy reproductive system.

The idea of Mumbai as a “safe space” for smokers is one that is up for contestation, with differing opinions being offered by the different women. The idea of the lane outside the Tata Institute of Social Sciences is also fraught with contestation. Ultimately, it would appear as though there are no “safe spaces” in which women can smoke in India, unless the space is a privatised, public space within the sacrosanct boundaries of consumptive behaviour.

However, these spaces of consumption are still occupied by a mix of individuals who draw on the same socio-cultural background as, not just the women who smoke cigarettes, but also those who criticise them for it. The question that arises now, is what the perception of those other individuals in these spaces is like – whether they are still reaching the same conclusions about these women, but are choosing to not act on them. The question that arises now is if there is truly any “safe space” for an experience of pleasure that transgresses the boundaries of the dominant gendered cultural codes.


Works Cited

Patel, Vibhuti. “Campaign against Rape by Women’s Movement in India.” 20 Dec 2012. Web. 15 Sep 2015. 

Phadke, Shilpa, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade. Why Loiter?: Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. Print.


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