Tag Archives: Women

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?

Quoted In Sunday Mid-Day Story – ‘Why Men Won’t Let Women Speak’

Yesterday’s Sunday Mid-Day (20 November 2011) carried a story titled ‘Why Men Won’t Let Women Speak‘ by Soumya Rajaram. It was a 2-page feature on the phenomenon of women being unfairly (and harshly) targetted online for verbal assaults. The Twitter tag #Mencallmethings was referenced as was #LadiesWeWantAnswers issue (which I’d blogged about here).

I was quoted and the other recognizable names in the story were Kiran Manral, Harini Calamur, Janaki Ghatpande and The Mad Momma.

Here’s an excerpt of what I said,

“Women are at risk in the real world too, and yet we manage to travel,work and live reasonably safe lives. There are laws to protect us and there is a social structure in place; it tells you what’s permissible and what’s not. Whatever safety and freedom we enjoy, comes because we all recognise this structure. I’m hoping that the Internet will follow the same principle. This will be hastened if there are tangible measures attached to curb online harassment.”

Read the full article on the Mid-Day site. Here’s the epaper clipping:

Update: The best friend brought it to my notice that a preview of this article appeared in the Saturday Mid-day edition on 19 November 2011, with my picture in it. This appears to have been an even bigger story than I first thought.

Tiny Tales: The Interview

The two women stared at each other for a moment of mutual sizing-up.

The younger one had had enough practice at not flinching but the urge to look around the colourful room was strong. She clamped her back teeth together, the action producing the faintest tremor of flesh but no noticeable difference in expression. Her hostess noted it with approval but she didn’t let on. She was too busy staring.

“What do you think? Shall I move in?”

“Girl, you know that this is not a typing center, no?”

Girl moved her weight and a flash of teeth showed in the new light.

“Yes. I also know that the work needs hands, not feet.”

The matron on the sofa rolled her eyes, giving up the struggle and snorted,

“Arre, but, you don’t even…I don’t have the money to hire an ayah, okay?”

“I don’t need an ayah. With this wheelchair, I can lie down and get up by myself. I can do everything for myself.”

It was an idea. This one wouldn’t be in such a hurry to leave as the others. And yet, how could she do this? The idea was ridiculous. The older woman smoothed the edges of her sleeves, thinking.

“Listen. How many of your customers look at the girl’s feet? Face is good. Everything else works.”

“Some men may not like it.”

But she was really thinking, whatever you displayed here, found some takers. In her career of thirty-five years, if there was one thing she’d learnt, it was that there was no accounting for tastes.

“No man likes to admit what he likes. But that’s why we have a job, no? Because we know how to give them what they like without asking. Madamji, what more do you want?”

Another long pause while she shifted back to the left arm-rest.

Madamji displayed a visible tremor and then she looked away and pulled herself together. She hadn’t risen to the top of the chain, being queasy. The girl was tough and beautiful. And she was right.

She smiled.

“Seventy-five percent commission for me. Baki twenty-five for you. Start on Saturday.”

The girl wheeled out, creaking, but with forty percent. Madam was frowning but she approved. Many women had soft bodies, even perfect bodies. But only a hard mind could survive here. This one’s mind could run as fast as other people’s feet. Someday.

Maybe someday a legless girl would be the madam of this palace of pleasure.

Movie: Turning Thirty

I saw the movie yesterday, five days after it was released and at the unlikely time of 3:30 p.m. It felt sort of appropriate considering that the movie seemed to showcase the absolute freedom of the urban Indian woman.

The movie was strictly okay. The songs made me cringe, especially the one just following the opening scene with its done-over-to-the-point-of-nausea ‘couple in a convertible’ picturisation. It also felt a little too Sex and the City in a desi setting. And yet, I didn’t walk out of the theatre. I guess, it’s not the kind of movie I’d take someone on a date to, not one that I’d want to watch with my parents and not one I’d arrange a weekend plan around. But it is the kind of movie that I wouldn’t mind catching on an unexpected free weekday afternoon, by myself just like I did.

I don’t think the problem was the story itself, even if I did overhear a guy tell another, “It should have had a board saying Only For High Profile Women”. That just strikes me as typical Indian male horse-blinkeredness. We do drink and cuss. We are ambitious, ruthless, confused and non-comittal. And yes, casual sex, sex-without-feelings, revenge sex, premarital sex, illicit sex, gay sex…all of these things and more are a realistic part of our lives. Maybe this describes only one kind of Indian woman but that kind definitely exists, and not just in the high society pages.

But I thought the dialogues and the acting left much to be desired. It wasn’t like anybody was wooden. But the theme was fairly complex and new in the purview of Indian cinema. None of the actors really seemed convincing. They just looked…awkward. Except for Tilottama Shome (remember Alice from Monsoon Wedding?) who I thought carried every moment of even her very limited footage with ease.

Something struck me only towards the end and I don’t know if the makers even intended this. Naina, the protagonist faces the standard issues that one would expect from this movie – break-up, heartbreak, parental pressure to get married, societal perceptions towards ageing. But the one subtle issue that underlies the story and the only one that really satisfactorily reaches resolution, both in the situation and in her mind, is her career.

It got me thinking. The world has always struggled with integrating women and ambition. The generation before ours had jobs and within overwhelming barriers like lower pay, stereotyped roles and automatic prioritizing of family over career. My generation has careers but still within standard norms of what will impress the marriage market, what will be conducive to the partner’s own career and eventually, motherhood. Even today, it’s hard for us to admit that we worry about our jobs, employability and career path as much as, if not more than the way our relationships are going.

The boy often points out how hard and cynical I am about many things about my past. It stands out that he seems a tad more understanding about my bitterness over failed relationships than he does about my dashed hopes at the workplace. But maybe that’s not the typical male dismissal of my ambition, as I’d like to think. It is possible, just a wee bit at least, that I’m more bothered by the lows of my career than my love life.

This is not to say that I’ve loved any less or that my relationships mattered less to me than my career. But when I look back, I’ve more or less made my peace with the relationship failures, even the ones that were disasters. I’ve been able to do so by finally accepting that people, emotions and relationships are uncontrollable and that there’s no logic or rules or framework to follow. They happen and if they happen well, I count myself as lucky.

Career on the other hand, seems a lot more logical and structured, which means my expectations are nearly higher. Pettiness, politicking, theft, sabotage are each more difficult to forgive (and impossible to forget) when it comes to my workplace. And whether this is actually true or not, my expectations are still that I’d be able to right such wrongs or seek justice in some manner, when it pertains to work-related issues.

The same obviously doesn’t hold for relationships. Leading someone on, cheating, stealing another woman’s boyfriend and lying are not crimes punishable by law. And hence, my only hope for resolution is to accept and move on.

I’m heartened to note that popular culture (even it if is a somewhat offbeat movie like this one) portraying such issues. Pop culture does reflect how we are, how we think and how we behave, after all.

My favorite words in the movie were in the very last scene.

“Turning thirty is something I learnt to accept and appreciate only after I turned thirty-one.”

That means a helluva lot more than I can say. I’m tiptoeing towards the end of my 31 and I’m still learning to articulate what the big three-O has brought into my life.

Blogos Unf@air: Quoted in Hindustan Times article on Women Bloggers

On the same day, Hindustan Times ran a very well-written story on women bloggers and the problems we face. Trolls, stalkers, perverts and stereotypes!! I saw it online since it was only the Delhi edition that contained it.

(Click to view story)


With men constituting 76 per cent of all bloggers in India, the common perception is that “chick-bloggers” get more hits simply because they are women. “I resent this. I use a unisex pseudonym, write about things of general interest like cityscapes, humour and relationships. I find it painful that my identity has to be defined by my gender and not the quality or content of my writing,” says R@my@, who writes as IdeaSmith.

Much of my anonymity has been been about protecting my privacy from people I know but some of it has also served as a security blanket against trolls and what-nots. I guess that’s gone now. So hello world, hello non-anonymous life! I just hope I can face it with as much grace and style as my fellow womenbloggers who’ve also been quoted.

Telling All

For Shreyasi, who understands what I don’t say as well. And for the person this conversation happened with.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

How are things?

What things?

You know…are you dating anybody? I haven’t heard you talk about any women.

I haven’t liked any women.

Turn left here, it’s around the corner. What were you saying?

Nothing.

It wasn’t nothing. Tell all!

I said, I haven’t liked any woman.

Ah.

What?

Nothing.

Really?

Well……all?

All.

Ah.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Thick As Thieves

She broke the rules first. It was like taking money from the wallet of someone who’d steal from her eventually.

And he did. Wondering why she didn’t agonize over closure, the way other women did.

She’d never tell him that the story ended long ago. With the realization that they were both capable of theft.

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