“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?