On Misogynistic memes, women reinforcing patriarchal norms and why we need separate spaces for women in public spaces.
It was around 10 o’clock on a Monday morning. I made my way to the Noida sector 18 metro station, hurrying up the escalator as I heard the Delhi Metro pulling into the station. I raced towards the Women’s compartment which is usually located at the head of the train. As I passed by the rest of the compartments, I could see that they were packed as always.
When I finally reached the women’s compartment, I spotted men in it. I was confused, and looked around, wondering whether the women’s compartment was located at the back today. I heard the warning whistle. I moved further ahead where the majority of passengers were women and jumped in, squishing myself into the melee.
Inside the train several women around me were grumbling. “Why did these men enter this compartment? There’s no space for us at all”. One woman suggested informing the driver.
The women nearest to the talk-back button quickly switched it on and kept trying to tell the driver that men were in the women’s compartment. But because of the din of over 100 people talking and the wind outside, he couldn’t hear much.
We had passed by 3 stations and the crowd just kept growing and growing. My organs felt like they had been wrung several times over. My hands were turning white from gripping the overhead hand rails in an effort not to fall over the person next to me.
But that is usual in all crowded metro rides. However in this one, as the crowd kept growing women were being further pushed right into the men. Passengers started getting agitated. “Let’s try pushing the emergency button” someone suggested. We craned our necks to look for the red button situation on the side of the wall. The button was missing. I don’t know if there was a a guard on the train. I couldn’t see anyone, and even if someone was present, they took no action.
I took out my phone and asked the woman closest to it to take a photograph. “We need to complain” I remarked.
A few women nodded in agreement. A woman who was almost bent over double by the crowd turned around and said, “It’s not their (the men) fault you know. They don’t have place. So they came into this compartment” she said.
I pointed out that this was a women’s-only compartment. Rules by the DMRC state that any man found in the women’s compartment would be fined Rs. 250.
She turned around to face me and said, “But women also go the other compartment and sit. What do you say about them?”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this.
I had come across this argument/accusation on Facebook a few weeks earlier. A friend of mine had shared this picture on Facebook, its caption being a wry “Talking about equality” .
Comments on the photograph jeered and agreed with it.
However, I need to clear something out.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MEN’S COMPARTMENT.
It is called a general compartment. And I absolutely dread stepping into it.
I’ve entered the general compartment only in two situations:
- Where I’ve desperately needed to board the Metro but couldn’t make it to the Women’s compartment in time.
- If I was travelling with male friends and in the name of solidarity conceded to giving them company.
All the men in the train are NOT molesters. The crowd and the train’s movement result may cause them to fall or nudge you by accident. However, there are also men who take advantage of the situation and sneak their restless hands over various parts of your body. Sometimes you notice it and push them away angrily. Most times you’re confused about what to do because you don’t know whether it was incidental or accidental.
The entire trip is an exercise in self-defense.
You try to protect yourself by bracing one arm across your chest while your backpack acts as a shield for your back and bottom. You keep your eyes to the floor because you don’t want to make eye contact. You keep glancing up at the red LED lights indicating the upcoming stations, wishing the train would move faster. A 15-minute ride feels like forever.
The metro is equipped with air-conditioning and wide seats to ensure a comfortable travel. How am I to be comfortable when I am to be fiercely on-guard throughout?
It is for this reason that women have a separate compartment. It is where one can relax and stand without fear. And I am so grateful to the Metro Rail authority for giving me a safe space.
The woman continued, “Women enter the compartment and aggressively ask the men to give up their seats for them”.
If the men were sitting on the seats reserved for women, the women are fully within their rights to do so. But if they weren’t, I too do not agree with this attitude.
However, I was trying to steer her back to the main point: That women entered this compartment for a safe, hassle-free journey only to be rudely jostled around by men.
“But they don’t have place. Where can you expect them to go?” she retorted.
I asked what of the the women who are crushed against the men in the very same compartment we were standing in.
“How can you simply accuse those men? What if they were your fathers or brothers?” she retorted.
I was astounded. This was the first time I had heard the “mothers and sisters” analogy turned on its head.
I just shook my head, disappointed.
What I should have said was this:
My brother or father is just another man to someone else. If that woman is not comfortable being pressed up against them then I respect her dislike and stand by her.
But I’m glad the conversation happened. I got to know her views, she got to know mine. And what’s more, the 50-odd women around us were witness to it too. They might agree or disagree with me but what’s important is that a conversation was started and I hope this conversation is carried forward until we have a sensitive and nuanced understanding of issues we come across everyday.
Very often in the fight for equality, people retort with, “Oh you’re being such a feminist”. Yes, thank you. Thank you for recognizing that I fight for equal rights. That it entails equality to both men and women.
We need to speak up when things are not right. Even if it doesn’t affect us. If our conscience does not prick us then our collective blindness will only further an apathy that is rapidly overwhelming our society.