Reserving coaches for women in the Delhi Metro. Good move or bad?

Border is a limit or a barrier created to indicate division of space. It can be understood as a line (visible or invisible) that separates a unit or a collective from the other. Their significance is derived from their ability to define, segregate, order, communicate or implicate different meanings to different spaces.

Gabriel Popescu in his book titled ‘Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-first Century’, talks about organising human behaviour through creation of borders and boundaries,

“Borders have traditionally served the role of ordering society. Making borders is a means for organising human behaviour in space by regulating movement in space. Thus bordering in space is a means of ordering space, two sides of the process by which humans appropriate space”.

Curious about such divisions of space and its afforded behaviours, this blog presents a series of observations on existence of border and their creation as a social practice. We look at how meaning making happens on either side of these invisible lines, how they get negotiated over a period of time, in some cases changing the nature of the border itself.

These observations are taken from our everyday engagement with the city and its spaces and present an insight into the lives of the cultures they are associated with. Through each case, we try to understand how these borders not only separate people but might also give rise to different connections forming over time.

Part 1: The case of women’s coach in the Delhi metro

Reserved coaches in Delhi Metro. Photo Credit — Shreya Garg.
“Women in the national capital got a Gandhi Jayanti gift from the Delhi Metro with a special coach being reserved for them from today.” — The Hindu, 2 October 2010.

In 2010, Delhi metro reserved the first coach in the metro for women passengers making it the second Metro in the world to reserve special coaches for women after Dubai. While it was received with great relief from women passengers and from many other groups demanding equal rights for women, this separation of spaces seems to be based on a troublesome thought that women need to be separated from men in order to be safe in a public space, many a times considered to be a man’s territory.

Imagine crowding all the women in one coach. Does that make the rest of the train slightly less accommodating for women? Well, there are people who take both sides. During rush hour when men are stuffed in a coaches like sardines in a can, it sure comes as a relief to many women who’ve lived through harassment in the metro, especially in a cramped box where harassment can easily pass as an unintentional act.

Here, I recount an incident as narrated by a close friend that occurred during a metro ride on a Monday morning while getting late to somewhere.

I ran into a tightly packed general coach to save some time and catch the train at the platform. While in the metro I stood facing the door, the man behind me conveniently opened his zip, rubbing himself on my back. I froze with fear. I couldn’t understand anything. I just froze. I couldn’t even shout! Never had such a thing happened before. I wanted to escape but there was no way and no space until the door opened at the next station. Two minutes till the next station felt like a lifetime. I ran out of the coach as soon as the doors opened. To my surprise he followed me back to the platform shouting something. I was too shocked to understand anything and I ran as fast as I could. What seems even worse is that, while telling this incident to my friends, all I got to hear was, “You went into the general coach, you called for it! Why did you not go in the woman’s coach?” pointing it back at me for making the wrong choice to travel in the general coach.

While many of us deal with these issues on a daily basis, this act of bordering seems problematic as it has a tendency to reinforce the idea that a general compartment is in a way the men’s compartment and if something happens while you were travelling in a general coach, it is really not anybody’s fault, not the government’s, not fellow travellers’ and certainly not the perpetrator’s.

We need to relook at the gaps reinforced by such bordering, especially while designing for our civic infrastructure. Do we need to be comfortable with each other’s presence in public spaces while occupying it together or segregate spaces creating a boundary between them, leading to more gendered spaces?

Crossing Borders is a series by Treemouse exploring the repercussions of building boundaries to overcome challenges of urbanisation. It is meant to invoke critique on the ways to integrate a mix of ideologies into the society & debate whether building borders is one of them.

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