By Suhasini Patni:
I walk into the metro station. It is crowded as usual; men swarming in and out; women with small children pushing everyone in their way; families trying to leave with only one paid token and sympathetic security guards letting them pass despite this transgression. The metro is the most luxurious form of public transport. It is also the one place where people seem to forget class and caste barriers. Everyone is entitled to a seat. Every compartment has an air conditioner. And there is no extra payment for any of this. It’s democratic. It’s equal.
There is one distinction, though. It is the last compartment of every Delhi Metro, which is reserved for women. The platform for this has huge pink stickers designating the place as a safe and free zone for women with posters all around boasting that 99% of Delhi men do not come inside the ladies compartment. And if they ever do, there will be badass female guards pushing them all away.
On this crowded day, I think the ladies compartment is a form of justice. This is what women need; a place where they are safe from any men with ill intentions of groping them or any men eyeing them up and down till they feel like they have been undressed in someone else’s brains.
But what twisted form of justice is this? Do we need to shield ourselves from men? Hideaway our bodies as if they are something to be ashamed of? I sit down on a seat in the ladies compartment. Automatically, I know that every woman here is looking out for each other. We may be from different backgrounds, but we’ll stick together if a man comes in. The girl next to me tries to shove my bra strap inside my sleeveless t-shirt. “Jab aap bahaar nikle toh kisiko dikh na jaye,” she says (When you go out of here, no one must see your bra strap). I am too shocked to stop her. I know her intentions are not wrong. She is just trying to protect me. This is her showing her solidarity.
What is she trying to protect me from? What am I a victim of? The public view? The eyes in the general compartment? Real life where there is no segregation between men and women? The ladies compartment is not the only place where a woman may wear crop tops and skirts and show their bra straps without feeling embarrassed. All my life I have identified myself as a feminist. By sitting in the ladies compartment, enjoying this unrealistic segregation, am I setting back feminists by years? Am I defeating all the progress they have tried to make? Since when are they a “they” and I not a part of them?
The ladies compartment becomes the manifestation of all that is wrong in society. It is the same thing as telling your daughter to wear ‘respectable’ clothing but not telling your son that it is wrong to misbehave with women. It stems from good intentions too but in the end is it leading to more segregations? The ladies compartment is not meant to incorporate women into society. It is not a symbol of progress but of patriarchy, where it is better to tell women to hide than to tell men to keep their eyes and hands to themselves. In fact, the general compartment too has seats reserved for women, along with for the physically disabled and senior citizens. Are we in the same category? Do we need reserved seats even in the general compartment because we are considered the weaker sex? Or is this some twisted form of justice too?
Yes, all the women stand together in their own safe compartment. But progress will come once we stand together outside our safe zone and fight against inequality. It is no longer a matter of convenience.