Is it discriminatory to reserve seats for able-bodied women in public transport?Recently, I travelled on the Delhi Metro on two separate occasions, each time with a female friend. Both are self-proclaimed feminists. Both champion the cause of women emancipation. Both will retweet the statement, “If you are not a feminist, you are a chauvinist,” if given a chance. However, my experiences on the two occasions were completely different.
She boards the Metro at Green Park station and looks around. The seats are just full; about a dozen people are standing hither and thither. For those of you who have never been to Delhi Metro, there are specific seats reserved for ladies, senior citizens and differently-abled people. There’s also a coach—the first one of every train—reserved for women.
“Such rights of women, if not asked for, would be exploited by men most of the time. They hardly bother to give up any comfort until you ask them, even if their conscience is screaming out aloud that they’re sitting on ladies’ seat while a lady is standing front of them.”
A goes near the ladies’ seat and finds it occupied by an unconcerned man-with-earphones. Without getting vexed, she goes up to the person and reminds him that he is sitting in a ladies’ seat. He perhaps already knew this, but didn’t bother to rise until asked. He acts like he had no idea it was a ladies’ seat and jumps up onto his toes, finds a place to stand and offers A the seat with the requisite courtesy. “See?” A tells me. “Such rights of women, if not asked for, would be exploited by men most of the time. They hardly bother to give up any comfort until you ask them, even if their conscience is screaming out aloud that they’re sitting on ladies’ seat while a lady is standing front of them.”
I see her argument. She’s right. I nod. The sad part is that too often, I’ve been that man-with-earphones sitting on a ladies seat until being kicked off by the fairer sex.
She boards the Metro. The situation is same as before, the seats just full, about a dozen people scattered along the coaches.
We move around in search of seats. No vacant seats. We go to a corner, from where I take a peek at the whole situation. I see a cheesy lad wearing a yellow-embroidered shirt with earphones tucked in his ears sitting quite comfortably on a seat designated for ladies only. He gives B a top-to-down stare, seeing which I feel a bit nettled. I point out to B, “See that ladies seat: let’s kick that flimsy fellow off the place.” He would have hardly bothered to offer her his seat even if he already knows that it was a ladies only seat he’d parked himself on.
B remains unconcerned, and explains with force in her voice, “Well, I find these ‘seats reserved for ladies’ quite discriminatory. I mean you could reserve seats for senior citizens, specially-abled, sick people, pregnant women or people with kids. But why on Earth do women need reserved seats? Aren’t we strong enough to stand through the jerks and swings of a Metro ride? Aren’t we bold enough to slap an eve-teaser if he tries to take advantage of the cramped space? I find it condescending towards us women. It’s like society reminding us that we are weaker; we need support. Well, this is highly condescending to women, but this is India. No matter how much you talk about gender inequality, you’ll find that women, even some of the self-proclaimed feminists, encouraging these gender-disparaging symbols present in the society by either accepting it or in many dire cases, even fighting for these. How will you answer these issues when the patient is herself a catalyst for the disease? Women don’t need support, because support never comes without pity in this society.”
“Why on Earth do women need reserved seats? Aren’t we strong enough to stand through the jerks and swings of a Metro ride? Aren’t we bold enough to slap an eve-teaser if he tries to take advantage of the cramped space?”
I mention that not all women might think like her. I have known of friends who succumbed to assaults just because they were too scared to raise their voice.
“For that, there’s the ladies coach,” she says. “Though I don’t completely approve of it, I get it. It is helpful for women who want to feel safe, who might be chumming and need to rest, who just wish for a seat. But this gender segregation isn’t what my definition of feminism champions. If there are two seats reserved for ladies, there should be two seats reserved for men as well in each coach.”
I remain stunned. B is too different from A. But she’s absolutely right as well. Who is more right?
The question troubles me for over a week. I google and come across articles from both men and women who champion the cause of women. While there were articles in defense of the ladies seat citing anatomy, anaemia, menstruation, pregnancy, assaults and harassment, there were also those that asserted the need of “seats for those in need”, which could include a person—irrespective of their gender—who is unwell. But this is a problematic stance. Need is a difficult issue to quantify. How can you claim that you need the seat more than others? For instance, it becomes even more intrusive because even in case of any illness, one would need to divulge the information to strangers to prove one needs.
Need is a difficult issue to quantify. How can you claim that you need the seat more than others?
I think there exists an egalitarian solution to this gender divide. Along with the two seats reserved for women in every alternate rows, let there be two seats reserved specifically for men. Let’s play fair and equal. Much like women need those seats for various reasons, so could the men. After all who doesn’t like getting a seat?