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The 1st coach of the Delhi Metro is reserved for ladies; male passengers are requested not to board the same”.  If you are a Delhi Metro Commuter like me, you cannot escape hearing these lines. It is such a welcome relief to the aggressive jostling and the pushing that one witnesses in the other “male” compartments. There are more smiling faces and more interaction with complete strangers; a raised voice here and there or a one off heated argument but overall sense of camaraderie. And how can I forget the  swanky looking red Delhi Transport Corporation ( DTC for short) air conditioned busses where the majority of the left row is reserved for women. Pure heaven I say!

I was a happy woman boarding a “Women’s Only” compartment in the Metro, sitting on the

 “ Women’s Only” seat in the DTC busses  with my head buried in my latest book, till one day I forgot to bring a book and to pass the time I started looking around. What I saw shook me to the core. Yes the women had their own spaces where their bodies and personhood could not be violated by the male gaze, where they felt “safer”, but the spaces that women claimed in the public areas had shrunk to the ones that were specifically labelled for them. No matter how hard I tried to locate women in other spaces, I couldn’t find any.

Post the barbaric gang rape of a 23 year old student on 16th December last year; such measures have escalated in the name of “women’s safety.  The “Women’s Only” concept has expanded to  cabs , busses , parks, gyms and even women’s only tours!  Prima facie it seems like this is a step towards providing security to women  from all sorts of evil that men around them can commit. Going just a little back to the history of male- female dynamics and the social context that India is rooted in would reveal a very different reason for this. Minimal interaction between the two sexes was always seen as a way to “protect”   females from getting tarnished or being labelled “fast”

( For the uninitiated “fast” is a commonly used term for a woman who is seen interacting with men beyond the socially permissible  boundaries and rules of male- female communication ).  Separate schools, colleges and even separate dining halls ( as recent as a decade back) are a common practice in India.

Creation of separate spaces is nothing but a colossal step backwards for women’s empowerment. A subtle way to point out that no matter what women have achieved in terms of economic self- sufficiency or political representation, they are confined to only a few places dictated by the Indian patriarchal system.  Such spaces defeat the very purpose of women’s safety. As a woman I feel safe when I know my personhood will not be violated, no matter how desolate the road that I am travelling on is. Safety comes from the feeling that no man will take it as an “invitation” and make inappropriate advances when he sees a wine glass in my hand, no man will take my inebriated condition as a “consent” for any kind of sexual activity with him. Safety for me means to be able to wear a short skirt, jeans or a saree and know that no one takes my attire as a licence to cat-call me. Segregation is not safety, after all at some point of time, I do have to get down and walk the same road with one hundred men.

 Although  it is  a very appealing concept, segregation does more harm than good. This step “un-does” the efforts that women ( and men) from centuries have made towards securing rights of women.  Such measures are nothing but a  “Band-Aid” approach towards an issue that requires much deeper thinking and much more intense discourse, only treating the symptoms and not actually addressing the root cause.  Women need to feel safe because men, or rather the patriarchal context that we operate in, considers its right to control and claim women in any which way they can. The easiest way to “claim” a woman is to brand her body with the male proprietorship. The patriarchal mind-set needs to gear up to see women as individuals, not just a walking piece of flesh that is out in the open to be grabbed at the first opportunity.  Even after the  National outrage about the brutal gang rape and the death penalty to the accused by the Lower Court, nothing has changed in so far as the patriarchal attitude is concerned Rapes and sexual assault being reported, and not just from New Delhi but across the nation.

Let us not start celebrating the fact that we have our own spaces where we can be ourselves.  We want to be able to claim every space as our own and be ourselves wherever we go, not just in the “Women’s Only” compartment . 





really well written piece

dear pragya ,

                   you write really well. keep on the good work . let the voice be heard ! :)

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