Sunday, 12 June 2011

Travailing on Public Transport #1

“If you want the seat why don't you kids ask for it?” he snarled and continued sitting.

I was snubbed, and that too in front of a friend. “No Uncle, I didn’t mean that I wanted you to get up for me... I was just telling my friend here that...”

“Don't make loud comments and hope that I vacate the seat for you.”

*************

I walk on to the platform nonchalantly. Check my phone for messages. Check my diary for things I have to finish today. Balance my pen behind my ear lobe, as I dig in my canvas bag for my music player. Some guy is looking. That’s ok, harmless. Lots of people on the platform, its still day light.

Metro screams in. A queue falls into place, with the guy at the head of the line shifting slightly from left to right, trying to approximate where the carriage will open. The line behind him sways on his leading.

Enter. Scan the carriage. Vacant seat? Someone I can squeeze with? Nopes. Standing again, standing every day. “Please mind the gap”, the familiar voice advises me. “Passengers are requested not to sit on the seats reserved for ladies,” she carries on moralizing. I look to see if anyone’s expression changed, did anyone feel uncomfortable about sitting on the ‘seats reserved for ladies’ when she made the announcement in English and he made the announcement in Hindi? Seems not.

I find a plastic loop to hang on to. Reach into my bag and take out my newspaper. Open it carefully, mindful of the people around me. Balance my pen in my ear lobe again. Corruption. Suicide bomb. Scam. Lady Gaga. Cricket.

My hair is coming loose from its pony tail. Need to re-tie it. Will wait till I’m out, it will swish in someone’s face otherwise.

Is that his belly? Or is that his bag rubbing against my butt? It better be his bag. Is he doing it on purpose? Should I turn around and give him my stern look? Or should I try my I-will-embarrass-you look? Should I stare him into feeling uncomfortable? Then again, they don't seem to feel uncomfortable. Don't want to create a scene and attract attention…

Why can’t he turn the other way? Why can’t he face his back to me. No that’s not good either.. I wish he would stand to his side. That way we won’t rub against each other controversially.

Where’s my phone?! In the front pocket of my jeans, good. Is my wallet visible in my bag? Should not bring these open bags.. should carry my back pack so that I can zip it up safely. But a back pack doesn't look good with a kurta.. Better buy myself a jhola with a zip, this one is very easy to steal from. I pull my bag closer to my front.

Another guy looking. What? Is my button open? I try and peer at my kurta without making it obvious. Forgot my dupatta at home. Well, at least I’m not wearing a t-shirt today. Ok can you stop looking now? I pull my bag closer again. Maybe I should turn the other direction. Is he still looking? Don't want to meet his eye. Why can’t everyone just read a newspaper on the metro?

*************

So hot, want to take off my jacket. But I can’t- Wearing a sleeveless t shirt today. Brought the jacket so that I can cover up on the road and while travelling, will take it off when I reach work.

Don't want to travel in men’s compartment today. General compartment not men’s compartment. We just automatically consider the general compartment to be the men’s. I will travel in ladies’ compartment.

*************

Rummaging in my bag on the platform. Should I go to ladies’ compartment? Its further down the platform, I don't want to walk to it. I’m wearing a long kurta today, Ill be safe. I think I will travel general.

Blind man enters the carriage. Guy gives up his seat for the blind man. He did it spontaneously, nice of him, bless him. Blind man takes out a large book. “Shlokas, today I am going to recite some Shlokas for you.”

Guy in front of me has very large toes. Can’t help notice these things- in metros, elevators, anywhere where you are in close physical contact with other human beings, you must let your eyes wander anywhere but to their eyes. Never, make, eye, contact.

Guy looks for his metro card in his wallet. Another card is peeping out. Says IIT Delhi. Decent. What if he talks to me? What if I talk to him? He must be a decent guy.

Suddenly, “We are working with the concept of Braille, on laptops.. for blind people.. with this NGO.” What?! Who? Me? IIT Guy is talking to me? Uh. Oh that’s cool I said. Moment(s). Mm. You’re. You’re working with JAWS also probably… (?) “Oh yeah, JAWS also.” “Final year project” I asked. “No, working independently.”

“Next station is, Barakhamba Road. Doors will open on the…”

Should I say bye to him?

“.. right. Please mind the gap.”

Doors open on the right. I left. Didn’t say bye to IIT Guy. I minded the gap.

Did he get out with me? No. Good. How come he decided to start a conversation with me? Smart guy.. I should have said bye. Decent fellow..

*************

Delhi metro versus BMTC buses in Bangalore?

Delhi metro!

Delhi metro versus Delhi autos?

Delhi metro!

Kyunki, Delhi metro is AC and clean, and cheaper. Arm pits will be in your nose but at least they are not sweaty. No pollution or traffic jam. Don't have to fist, fight or swear. Don't have to ask bus conductor to give you your ticket and full change back. Don't have to text a friend the registration number of the auto in case of emergency. Don't have to force auto guy to go by meter and then worry if he is taking you on a longer route.

*************

Dad told me to buy a large and heavy thala and keep it in my bag at all times. So if anyone tries to act funny with me, I can swing my bag in his face or anywhere else. Dad also told me to carry chilli powder. So if anyone tries to act funny with me, I can put it in his eyes. Dad told me to not leave my hair open and always wear a dupatta. “Don't attract attention, be simple.”

A friend gave me pepper spray for my birthday.

I don't carry it with me, because I think that by the time I find the pepper spray in my jhola, I would have been raped thrice. Also, if I carry it, I will always be fidgeting with it, because it will just make me all the more nervous. I will always be worried about a shadow behind me, a footstep behind me, and I will get paranoid trying to keep my thumb on the trigger all the time!

*************

Another day, another metro. Doors open. Enter. Scan. First I scan the seats. Then I scan the stickers above the seats, to find which one is reserved. When I find it, I look at all the faces on that row and see if anyone of them looks like the kind that will give me the seat. All men. None respond. It’s like reading the rows and columns of a complicated table of figures, trying to find your value.

Even in the special "Women Only" compartment, women are often mobbed and harassed by men.

Some of them are elderly. But they’re men all the same. Do I deserve the seat more or do they? It’s a matter of weakness is it not? I may be a weak young woman, but he is old.. thus weak, and though a man, he is weaker than a weak young woman. So he gets the seat. That’s how it works.

Someone gets up. Me and another guy try and slide into the space from different ends. I get the seat but so does he. So actually I only got the edge of the seat. Now there are nine people in a row for seven.

“Please vacate seats for old, physically challenged and ladies,” said announcer aunty.

But why THAT order of infirmities? First old, then physically challenged, and after that ladies. Poor kids, forgot to add them in the string of ‘those who are of weak capacity’.

Do I want to be grouped with them?

“Please offer your seat to someone in need,” says the green sticker in the metro.

This is really the clincher of the issue. While it provides the answer, it does not provide the solution. Because how do you find who is in need or rather, who is in need more?

I’m a healthy young woman and I can stand for the thirty minute journey. But there are some days I’m carrying lots of stuff, or like last week when I was running a temperature. I considered asking a man for his seat but realized he was not sitting on the ladies’ row. So I went to the other side of the carriage and asked someone who was. But did I have to? Did I have to justify my claim to the seat that day? Did I have to go to the areas designated for my womanliness to be treated well?

*************

According to the latest report from the National Crime Records Bureau, out of the 3,43,749 crimes against women that were reported, Delhi alone accounted for 13.2 per cent.

Dharini was slapped across the chest, in the Delhi metro ladies’ compartment, earlier this year. She says we need to Mend the Gap.

Sonali from Bangalore was roughed up by cops in Bangalore for going home late. She says we have a Right to Choose.

Blank Noise wants women to be Action Heroes.

Slut Walk wants the public to know that no one can be raped, not even a slut.

Hollaback in Chandigarh is asking for women to share their stories of gender discrimination, and Must Bol says to do it zor se.

Jaagori is asking for women to awaken.

I would like the freedom to be safe.

24 comments:

abhimanyu at his best said...

Well written, on the metro its good if u get a seat or if u have ur back to the walls of the compartment, good luck and travel safe always!!

Mishika said...

Brilliant post. Actually summarizes whatever we discussed in the SLUTWALK Delhi meeting a couple of days back..

Rajan Prasad said...

ma'am, i am a boy (n since u seem to hv respect for iitians, i myt tell u I m in CSE , at IIT_hyderabad), and i get to see what a girl feels in public places. but i dont know how shud i say, but when u see somebody sitting in a ladies seat in metro, or bus (i dont, that goes against my self-respect to sit on a ladies seat), u shud politely ask them to get up, or say indirectly. sensible men, wud get up instantly, and if the fellow is a ruffian, then u hv the whole ryt to b stern, please assure u get ur seat even in general compartments (actually i hate girls, whu ask impolitely as if the bus service belongs to her dad), but u shud certainly get a seat, where u r entitled to. just be brave. and please dont think that people wont get up. u ask them, most will. if they dont, its ur will.

also, as far as touches are concerned, pls stop thinking that boys r vultures. some loafers, playboys r, but a majority rnt. they r more troubled by the ladies in their own lives or other problems that they dont hv tym to think bad about u or other girls. i mean even if that fellow's belly was touching ur butt, he didnt mean to enjoy it (most probably), the best u shud do then is to say "excuse me" and remove his belly a bit. he wont say anything. and as far as lokking at u is concerned, if sumbdy luks at u, it may mean that he is admiring ur beauty, he mostly doesnt hv any wrong intentions abot u.


so, PLEASE, PLEASE MA'AM. stop thinking that boys r vultures. good boys respect good girls, and want that good girls also respect or love them, and dont look at them as loafers, please ma'am. it hurts, please....

kicking.and.screaming said...

@ ahimanyu
Practical suggestion, didnt think of that one. However.. if only..

@ Mishika
Good going girls! Will keep tracking you.

@ Rajan
Thank you for sharing what you think with me Rajan. I didnt mean to hurt any feelings with this post. I wanted to let people in to the mind of a woman, when she is doing a simple metro ride.
I agree with what you are saying in part. I dont know about 'most men' but I know that a lot of them, can make women feel unduly uncomfortable.
Im glad to hear that you yourself feel strongly on this issue, and have respect for women. Take that into your society, and we will all be better for it!

Himadri said...

You this is what every girl in metro feels like. the way you mentioned I wish i had my back pack but then you rem ki uff aaj to kurti hai. This is so true! every single day I experience all this..but well..what can we do. Atleast this is better than what i experience in DTc buses:(

Vincentvikram said...

@Mickey I agree that Delhi (and North India in general) is a tough place for women who are non-Delhi'ites. Delhi women have become tougher because of the situation they are in (I am familiar because my mum had to travel there several times). However, this is not the case as we travel to the southern states. To change the way men treat women we have to understand the underlying conditions: For example, the sex ratio up north is very bad and in several cases the wife of one of the brothers has to see to the needs of the rest of the family.
The killing of the girl child, which results in the pathetic sex ratio, is due to highly male dominated society which in turn is the result of the 'feudal to semi-feudal' conditions that prevail.

We also have the phenomena that boys who have been brought up primarily by their mothers are very sensitive and gentlemen by all definitions.

So the question arises as to what should one do? Inter-mediate steps would be what you have already written about in some of your posts. Unfortunately, they are not long-term. We have to break the feudal conditions to ensure that there is a permanent change in society. There are several examples and articles on that and hence will not bring it up here.

Have to conclude by saying that your post is very enlightening and sensitising.

Umang Sabarwal said...

Very well said, it all comes down to that last sentence. Its true for al of us I beleive

Anonymous said...

North Indian men are such assholes. Having grownup in Kerala, i never felt any issue traveling on public transport until i moved to Delhi.

Apple-worm said...

Me likes this post and how you say "announcer aunty"

smrithi mariam said...

Great Post! mirrors my thoughts exactly on all my regular BMTC bus rides! And Yes maybe when the metro here is ready I will mind all the gaps!!

Tatterdemalion said...

Real nice!! But I never thought its this bad on BMTC busses. Yeah it is crowded, but I've seen guys get up from seats reserved for women when a woman enters the bus. But yeah.. really well written.

kicking.and.screaming said...

Hello!
I posted a reply but cant find it and now dont know :s, but glad that this connected with you!

thewritefrequency said...

This is brilliantly written. I especially relate to the bit about "deserving" a seat in the metro by virtue of my "womanliness" as you put it.

its amazing how the metro - and the dynamics of people of different social classes' behavior in it say so much about our society.

Anarkist said...

i love every word of this post. Great entertainment...this is the second time i am reading it after a gap of 10 days, this time aloud to a friend. a bit disturbing too, but the humour takes it far above the usual complaint of the frustrations of being a woman doing the public transport in delhi. ..this is the second time i am reading it after a gap of 10 days, this time aloud to a friend. a bit disturbing too, but the humour takes it far above the usual complaint of the frustrations of being a woman doing the public transport in delhi.

kicking.and.screaming said...

Hi Anarkist,
Thanks for that! Glah, and I am not able to check your blog out, something to do with your settings.

kicking.and.screaming said...

@ thewritefrequency
True, it still boggles me, even in relation to the larger question as to who deserves concession more.

People, said...

Sunil here :) You've met me in a recent lifetime :P At work, I was asked to develop a CSR campaign to tackle eve-teasing and was specifically asked to "feel like a woman" and to do whatever it takes. I have come with a pretty cool campaign, I think so far :) Coincidence :)

Bamboosong said...

Was reminded of your post yesterday when I got rammed by the conducter on my BMTC (thats Bangalore Bus for the uninititated). Every time he wanted to give out tickets he'd come & lean against me and every brake went THWACK! Thinking of Kickin n Screaming helped me to smile thru it & also elbow the bugger till my male seat-sharer noticed & offered his window seat. Ouch.

kicking.and.screaming said...

@ Bamboosong
Aich, have you also experienced the sweaty belly on your face?
Glad that kicking.and.screaming made you smile!

Btw, I wrote something else specific to Bangalore buses, and its here: http://soapboxfound.blogspot.com/2010/06/ladies-seat.html

Continue to travel on public transport!

Cheesecake! said...

Awesome post bhoo. Strikes a chord, and makes me extremely sad. I offer kudos and support.

People, said...

Since I actually read the entire thing only now, I must say you are extremely brave :P The Bangalore Metro might change your opinion of public transport (at least in Bangalore), but men (most of them) in our nation are dirty assholes. I think it's a cultural thing. Deprivation of the worst kind took over the nation by a storm, even worse than food deprivation. There are times that that should actually be afforded. That, sadly, has also extended to our good and better friends in extremely strange ways. We commoditise these beautiful things. Refer http://honnasiriscatch.blogspot.com/2011/06/so-much-for-needs.html for my extended opinion on the matter.

Of course, pretty women are pretty, and beautiful women beautiful. I'm sure you love the appreciation, but being cheap should be thrown out the window.
And I like the fact that you were open minded enough about the IIT guy :)

kicking.and.screaming said...

Oh dear, I wouldnt say its a cultural thing, I wouldnt say its a male thing either.

Open minded about the IIT Guy? Hardly, see how I generalised that he must be decent because he's from there?

Besides, I dont claim that any of this is true to me but it is a true story.

Media Activist said...

really make sense in this senseless life

Agent M said...

Mickey, nice one... Happened to read this rather late, now into September, but hey, whats in time!

i'll just say powerful, and leave it at that. The change, i hope, that this post in people - not just men, but women, children, people, everyone - brings empathy, and through empathy, oneness, and through oneness, a breaking over conditions that cause us problems...