Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ladies Seat

There's a reservation of seats in BMTC buses, at least in the non AC types, which presume that men still have not received the education necessary for them to give up their seats and women still haven’t acquired the strength to be equal. The reservation is for women, and it has the prestigious location of being in the very front of the bus, starting from behind the driver and ending just short of the middle door.

This reservation is usually indicated by the presence of the word 'Ladies' (correctly spelt) in English and Kannada, or by the motif of a regular savithri, emblazoned on the steel above the seats, for those who for no fault of theirs did not have the privilege of learning to read.

The funny thing is, the number of seats reserved for women is far lesser than the non reserved seats, that are by right of way, occupied by the gentler folk in our society, the men. Funnier still, is that men are always sitting in these ladies-seats, even in the presence of standing women, who are usually clutching on for dear life to their various appendages, including hand bags, hair dos, groceries and children. Greedy little gents I say, which probably explains why they are often called 'pigs', accompanied by the expected presence of 'chauvinist'. The funniest thing for me, is that in our patriarchal society, men never consider women equal until it comes to bus-seats.

Strength and Equality Advocates send out the clarion call, for women to occupy the un-reserved seats. But this cannot happen. Even in the presence of their being an equal number of men and women in a certain bus at a given time, it means that if men have reached the un-reserved seat before a woman, they just sit there. Women are allowed to stand in the man’s very line of sight. If a man leaves at a certain stop, his place is replaced by another standing man. And women do not foray in to the un-reserved compartment such that they can slip into the seat of the departing man. They do so only in the designated front, because which woman wants to be rocking back and forth pressed up against men in a non AC bus?

If this is how our social system in BMTC buses is to work, then it would probably make sense for more seats to be reserved for women, because men can occupy them anyway, in the absence of women. Or there needs to be a section called “For Ladies and Gents”, because as much as we may pooh-pooh the idea of an unwritten rule, there certainly exists one if you don’t want your bottom pinched. While the male gaze still considers a man as another human being who paid for a ticket and wants a seat, a woman is looked at as just a woman and cannot occupy the un-reserved seats. So is the idea of a reservation of seats a regressive one in the progress of women in society? To the educated middle class gaze, it is. But to the practical Indian woman, who is still ogled at and treated badly, she pleas for protection and concession.

In today’s society of disparity, the one who is weak is asked for an un-reasonable amount of personal strength from the one who is strong, and in this demand, some will perish while others will compromise and definitely nobody will be equal.

Usually by the last stop, most people who were standing would have found seats. But if there is anybody who is still standing, it will be a woman. Even though she is in the front of the bus, plain for all to see, such that ignorance is not bliss for all the forward facing and backward thinking men, she receives no seat.

This phenomenon is seen in other areas of life as well. Little boys can accompany their mothers to the ladies's toilet until he can make susu on his own. Little girls cannot be caught dead in the gents' toilet. This could work brilliantly, if it was like the check-out counter at super markets, where those who have 3 or fewer items to bill can stand in the regular line but not vice versa.

Strength and Equality Advocates would like to tell you women today, to suck it up.

I am glad I know how to compromise today. I'm actually selfishly glad when I enter a bus and see men sitting in the seats reserved for women. Because I'm strong all right- "Ladies seat," I say with a no-nonsense scowl, to those pigs. And settle down with my breakfast and newspaper.