Ladies Compartment: The Myth About Mumbai’s Gender Segregated Spaces

Mumbai is considered India’s safest city for women. All public transport facilities include spaces allocated for women only. Mumbai trains have 2 coaches reserved for women only. Buses have a two-seater bench for women only. And the recent addition to public infrastructure, the Mumbai metro has recently announced a separate coach for women only.

Less than a month since its introduction, the resentful murmuring has already begun. I heard a friend complain about women who were travelling in what he called the ‘men’s coaches’ since there were designated spaces for them, already. This is something every female train traveller hears often.

Today, I took the metro and spotted this message emblazoned across the seperating tape.

“We know you are special, so an exclusive zone for you. Ladies Only.”

 

Mumbai Metro — Ladies section

I’d like to say thank you to the Mumbai Metro for putting this up. It highlights the problem and makes it easier for me to explain.

The point is not that women are special. We do not believe we are. How can we, when the whole world, starting from family, to classmates, to fellow commuters, to strangers on the road, to colleagues let us know that we are not? Being subjected to 24×7 scrutiny and moral judgement does not make us ‘special’, it makes us prisoners. Ajmal Kasab’s every move was scrutinised and you know who he was.

What is worse is that this differentiated treatment is neither our fault nor under our control. I have refused the ‘ladies’ seat’ on buses several times. I have waived ‘special rights’ offered to women in lines. Only to be told every single time that I am imposing and intruding into men’s territory. Whether it is a physical boundary or a mental one, gender seggregation does not come from women. It is a restriction imposed on us, under threat of moral censure and physical danger, if violated.

The common myth is that trains are divided into ‘ladies compartments’ and ‘gents compartments’. No, they are not. Mumbai trains have a ladies compartment among several other ‘general compartments’. Buses have ‘ladies seats’ among general seating.

To come back to the accusations of life being easier for women because of these gender-seggregated spaces, and that hated label of ‘special for women’ — why should I feel bad about an inelegant solution offered by society to my sex because of the crimes of your sex?

I would also like to point out that the city is not really safer because of these gender seggregated spaces. Women have been attacked and pushed off these very trains. Every single woman who travels by buses has a story of being rubbed up against and even groped by bus conductors and fellow passangers. Anyone who has travelled regularly by the ladies compartment in trains will know not to stand next to the separating grill, since intrusive hands and fingers come groping through them. Last year’s gangrape at Raghuvanshi Mills and the almost daily reportage of horrific rapes, acid attacks and crimes against women in this city should dispel any notions of how ‘safe’ Mumbai is for women.

Gender-seggregated spaces do not exist because women are special or consider ourselves so. They exist because certain MALE miscreants consider themselves special and deny us access to a safe, respectful space. Can we please stop acting as if it is a privilege extended to women and see it for what it is — a consolation prize for the actual human right to safety?

Don’t rain on the office parade

My first week isn’t out and the high drama has already begun! Started with a marathon meeting that went on past lunch, topped by the first cold I’ve started this monsoon (aren’t they the worst?).

Monday was better, punctuated as it was by an awkward-funny round of introductions with everyone else. I contemplated changing my name with every bay I introduced myself to (“I’m Miya. I’m Ingrid. I’m Cleopatra. I’m Socrates. I’m Obama.”) but sanity reigned just in time. Then of course the rains decided to happen.

4 and a half hours struggling through traffic & trains stalled by rains last night reminded me of Mumbai’s most famous myth – ‘the spirit of Mumbai’. I’ll have you know I slipped and fell on my butt, on one of the pedestrian walkways, despite my new, brandedwala sneakers-with-cool-technology-soles. Spent 20 minutes navigating (gingerly) till the station was in sight. I won’t tell you about the lady in the train who provided my nighttime train entertainment by yelling on the phone, chomping chips almost as loudly and picking her teeth (in relative silence…only relative but the sight more than made up for the lack of sound). I’m absolving myself from spirit of Mumbai, no thank you.

Still though, cheer comes my way in the form of this object that I found strategically (and ominously) placed in the center of the table I was assigned. SNC is back, people!!

Ideamarked Oct2011: Public Transport, Blogger Events & Watching What You Say

October has been a better month than the couple of months preceding it. For one, the rains have finally stopped!! Even if they did give way to scorching, melting, burning sunshine, for me, that means the shorts, summer dresses & flip-flops can finally replace easy-dry clothes & plastic footwear!

I’ve been traveling a bit, first to Bangalore and then to Bordi (posts coming up, of course!). There’s also been a fair bit of socializing with two back-to-back blogger meets by Indiblogger – the first, a blogger preview of MasterChef India2 (photos) and the second, the launch of Dove’s Damage Therapy range via a mini-spa for bloggers. Both were delightful, fun and had some great giveaways (now come on, bloggers are human too – we like freebies just like everybody else!).

The club badge (also the logo of Cadbury's)

Image via Wikipedia

One of the highlights (lowlights?) of the month was when Cadbury’s-Sula asked me to host a Dark Duet Party and botched it up, then topped it with a bad rescue attempt. Incidentally another friend reported another fiasco at her Dark Duet Party, the following weekend.

And finally, Marvin’s World back! After a bit of acting up, my Android has been taken care of with a SD card format and is app-browsing again! Onto some link-love:

  • Social Networks Defined Through Peeing‘: Oh ewww! And hahahaha! (via Reface.me)
  • A new reason to watch your words: Barring a witty retort, the other person might say “That’s what she said!”. And here’s more TWSS! (link courtesy GautamGhosh)
  • Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

    Image via Wikipedia

    Apple founder, Steve Jobs passed away a few hours ago. The products he pioneered have touched many of our lives in different ways, whether it was the iPod that was the first thing you saved up for & bought with your own money or, like me, if you were lucky enough to have a Mac for your first computer. Fans, detractors aside, here’s what stays with me – Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. (via Youtube)

  • Tomato Bruschetta

    Image via Wikipedia

    If you ever wondered about the correct way to say ‘bruschetta’ or ‘panini’, here’s an easy guide: ‘How To Order At An Italian Restaurant Without Sounding Dumb (Or Pretentious)‘ (via HowAboutWe.com).

  • Hope for public transport-tortured Mumbaikers may be around the corner in the form of a 24-hr dial-in autorickshaw service. Login to Rickshawale.com or check their Facebook Page. And here are some early impressions (link courtesy SharinBhatti, )
  • An auto rickshaw in Bangalore, India

    Image via Wikipedia

    Schedules and timely updates on the Mumbai train lines (via MumbaiLocalTrains, spotted at the Indiblogger-Dove meet).

  • Annie Zaidi & Smriti Ravindra’s latest book ‘A Bad Boy’s Guide To The Good Indian Girl’ explores the relationships women have with men, with each other and themselves. The promotional video features me (!) and a number of other women talking about The Good Indian Girl. (via Youtube).
  • Always a good read or listen: ‘Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen‘ (via Youtube, link courtesy Sanjita)

A Tale Of Two Cities

When people ask me, “Born and brought up here?”, I have to pause to think how to answer them best. I’ve settled for the bombastic and somewhat pretentious sounding “Born in the Capital and grew up in Island City.”

Its an odd feeling to belong to two different places simultaneously like this. Just like our relationships with people, there are invisible bonds that link us to places too…places that contain strong memories, places we’ve experienced life most in..

Each visit to the capital brings up parallel voices inside of me, conflicting, contradicting and highlighting the differences in the two places. If a city could be the motherland, I’m the proverbial Krishna, originating from one and flowering in another.

Mumbai has left an undeniable ‘chappa’ on me, shaped my thinking and attitudes. Visiting Delhi however invokes odd feelings that I’ve never quite been able to explain. I suppose it is a symbolic return to the womb, a reminder of how life could have been, still could be. Having a birth certificate from a city links you to that place for life. Mumbai is in my every waking moment and movement, in my brisk ‘lets-get-down-to-it’ attitude, my indifference to crowds and noise and precision-honed efficiency. Delhi however, whispers its hidden influences in my intellectualising, my love of the good life and long conversations.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Its cold. But not coooooooooooooold. That’s the first thought that hits me as I alight at Nizamuddin. What’s the fuss I think, remembering the dire warnings I’ve received over the past week about the winter in Delhi. Sure, everyone looks plumper (and that’s saying something….the average figure pays testimony to well-fed stomachs) and brighter draped in woolens and feathers (And I always thought these were the grey things that pigeons shed!).

As the day progresses, I can’t help reflecting that in Mumbai food takes longer to cool than to heat up. And oh…what an odd feeling to keep feeling hungry every hour! Mom is delighted and hints that my weight-gain plan might succeed if I shift here.

Shopping is always a great experience in Delhi, even for shop-a-phobics like me. I love the colour, the sheer feel of the ‘arty’ look, kurtas, jholas, mojris and trinkets. Idly I muse that I’ve never seen Delhi-ites wear all of this, though its considered the ‘Delhi look’. And oddly enough I’ve only seen all of this stuff on Mumbaikers who proudly say “Picked it up on my last visit to Delhi”…ah, umm.

The people look different, even their skin ailments look different. Can’t see any of the familiar pimples and acne that adorn Mumbai faces. There are instead, red splotches and little bumps which I assume must be a combination of colder weather and skins endowed with far less melanin.

Every single person I arrange to meet offers to pick me up or drop me back or both. Hmm…I think…I can’t imagine my Mumbaiker friends doing that any more than I can imagine my permitting them to. As always I hate not being able to travel around freely but I take note of the gentle solicitousness it seems to invoke in people here.

Books, books, BOOOOOKS!!!!! I’ll never be able to hate Delhi so long as it has its books. Mumbai’s workaholism drowns out any possibility of culture appreciation.
What is this life, if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?

If Mumbai is the place to make money, Delhi’s the place to spend it.
I also saw a band playing in one of the corners of Connaught Place. Intrigued I stood and listened to the music belting out of the makeshift speakers. How wonderful….the drummer’s a girl! Can’t imagine amateur musicians making music at street corners like this. Come to think of it, where would they play….Churchgate station?

I gape, all open-mouthed wonder at the neat manicured lawns, shining signboards and broad roads all through our jaunts. I make snide comments about how Mumbai pays at least 1/3rd of the country’s taxes and gets so few benefits in return while the Delhi lives off the rest of the country’s earnings in splendour. I remind my co-passengers of the meaning of the word ‘parasite’ and get muttered threats for reply.

No trip to Delhi is complete without the mandatory visit to the chaat-wala. Yum, yum I drool as I watch potatoes and unidentified stuff being mauled in as unhygenic conditions as possible. Oh, to hell with hygeiene I tell that nagging voice and tuck into the ‘halka masala mixed fruit chaat’. My mouth was on fire for an hour afterward. Grr…Delhi-ites must have cast-iron cauldrons for stomachs.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness floats pictures of homeless people…victims of the tsunami. I wonder, if a natural disaster had struck up north, would Delhi have been so complacent and matter-of-fact? Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that springs to mind.

Not that there aren’t conversations. Politics, politics….does every single Delhiite from age 7 upward own a degree in Political Science??? I feel woefully ignorant in all this chatter. That’s until someone mentions a movie and the talk turns to Bollywood. Then I inform them that I’ve stayed within a kilometer from the Big B’s residence and that Vivek Oberoi was my senior in college. HAH! I love the grudging admiration that shines in their eyes as I throw out these facts with an air of disdainful nonchalance.

Saturday and its time to leave. As the capital gears up for a weekend (what’s a weekend to a city that seems to be either lazing or partying during the week?), I pack my bags. On my train I’m glad that the other family in the cubicle is from Mumbai and I won’t have to endure tales of “Dilli sabse number one city”. I take an almost devilish delight in graphic details of Mumbai trains to a group of youngsters on their first trip to Mumbai. I see one gulp and I smirk. As the train whizzes into Borivili…I sigh..home sweet home. Its odd but nothing reminds me more about how much I belong here than a visit to Delhi.

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