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Of Buses and Trains!

This post is especially written for all the men who ask:
1. Why women need a separate compartment in local trains when they demand gender equality?
2. Why women have around 12 seats reserved in a bus (A lot of men ask it, especially in Mumbai, where about 12 seats are reserved for women in each bus.)?

And the gentlemen who understand the reasons for the above situations, I request you to kindly share this post so that it reaches every man who has the above mentioned questions.

August 2006, aged 15:
An afternoon, at around 11, I was going to my school. I was in Grade 10 then. On my way I met someone who I had known for a long time. He'd been a family friend and was hence in a "position of trust". Another reason why I could trust him was because he was at least 30 years elder to me. Even his children were older than me. So, when he offered to drop me to school in his car, I agreed. Back in those days, it was permissible to have tinted car windows. On our way to school, he stopped the car on a "not-so-busy-road", but it wasn't isolated either. He wanted to have a smoke. He was smoking and I was talking to him casually, like always. All of a sudden, out of the blue, something pressed my lips and blocked my vision. It was him. His lips on mine and his face in front of my eyes. I went numb. Nobody ever did that to me before. Even before I could realize, his hands entered the space between my shirt and the upper part of the V-neck maxi skirt of my uniform. He was looking at me intensely. I could feel his gaze on me, but I did not look back at him. He kissed me 2-3 times more and repeated the same gesture on the upper part of my body a couple of times and then started driving back towards my school. I asked him to drop me at the by-lane that goes to my school. I got down of his car and even before I knew, I had tears in my eyes. Nothing of that sort ever happened to me. I felt disgusted. I felt partly angry and partly guilty, for reasons unknown. I never shared this bit with anyone, except my best friend, Asmita. Once home, I locked myself in a room and cried myself to sleep. I was just too young to even comprehend what happened to me.

February 2008, Aged 17:
Dressed in jeans and a casual t-shirt, I was waiting for a male friend of mine at Santacruz station, as we had to pick another friend who was coming all the way from Delhi. As he was with me, we could not enter ladies compartment so we entered the general compartment in Mumbai Local on our way to Borivali. It was 9 am and peak hours. The rush was mad, so mad that you could not even move from the position you are standing in. Due to extreme rush, my friend could manage to find some space to stand at the door of the compartment after he safely moved me inside the compartment. In that rush, I suddenly started feeling a sharp pain in my breasts. I did not know what was happening. For a minute I thought its some medical emergency. A few minutes down the line, I realized that somebody was groping me, taking advantage of the crowd. A feeling of disgust engulfed me. I did not start crying, but my eyes were moist. My friend thought it was because of the rush and he kept assuring me that its just a matter of 2-3 more stations, but that did not help. And I did not understand how to tell him what was happening to me. I did not share this bit with him. As Borivali came, I felt a bit relieved, yet the horror of the journey was in my mind for days to come. After the incident that happened to me in Grade 10, I was so sure that public transport is always "safe" for a lady.

December 2011, Aged 20:
Happily dressed in my favorite salwaar-kameez with a dupatta, I was in a bus with my cousin brother and we were going to a "traditional" family function. We were sitting on "general" seats as he was accompanying me. After a few minutes of starting our journey, I could feel that the man sitting on the seat behind me, in the pretext of holding the sides of my seat for support, was trying to touch me inappropriately from the sides on the upper half of my body. I re-positioned my arms and that left no room for him to trouble me, or at least I thought so. However, a few minutes later, I could feel his fingers on the lower end of my neck, this time in the pretext of holding the upper handle of my seat for support.

The Buses and Trains:

I hope, it is now that all the men out there understand what all the gentlemen already knew. This is the reason why a lady, who demands gender equality, also asks for reservation in several means of public transportation. Because the moment she dares to travel with men, in general sections of public transport, she knows that she is not really "safe". And taking a lift in somebody's private vehicle is not a great option either. Not every lady has the luxury of a car. Even few have the luxury of a chauffeur, who again, cannot be trusted blindly.

I am not the only lady who went through this harassment. In what we call as the "safest" city in India, Mumbai, approximately 90% ladies who travel in public transportion means have had similar experiences. But as the saying goes, "It is easier to prove rape, but not harassment." Most of the cases thus go unreported.

At the point when I went through all this, even I did not report it, because I somewhere felt that I was the "only" one to whom it was happening. Deep down, I blamed myself. But now, as I realized that I was not wrong, I choose to speak about it and make an attempt to make men understand the problems that a lady faces while travelling.

As I started writing this post, I was confused if I should go ahead with it. If I should just say that all those experiences were not mine but instead, were those of my friends. But then a part of me was asking:
"Why am I being so apprehensive? What wrong did I do? Was going to school a fault? Is it wrong going to pick up a friend from a station? Should I have not gone out with my cousin?"
And finally, the rebel in me won. The one who believed that it WAS NOT MY FAULT and that as a lady, when I support reservation in public transport, I do it only to protect my body, and I have every right to do that.

While talking of feminism or gender equality, it is not really about being superior to men, its simply about being equal to them. Of course, there are some things that men are better at as compared to women, but then there are things vice-a-verse too. So ultimately, that is balanced.

One of the core arguments of gender equality is: "As a human being, we want to have the "same feeling of security and safety" as men." Simple as that. There is nothing wrong in it. And being an individual, every lady has the right to protect her body and ask for protective mechanisms when she sees a threat. And this is the simple reason why in spite of demanding gender equality, women ask for reservations in public transport. Now is that too difficult to understand?


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