Saturday, January 23, 2010

The question of real gender equality

I do not know if what I am going to tell you is practised all over India, but it is a very prevalent practice in South India. I do not know if it is practised every where in South India, but I am sure it is in most of Kerala and some of Karnataka. And it is a practice that pisses me off, a practice I consider as an insult and injustice to men. It is a practice that always makes me feel it is time we reconsidered and redefined our notions of 'gender equality'.

The other day, I was watching Nandan Nilekani's ideas for the future of India. Nilekani was talking about the evolution of Ideas in India, on TED. He said there are four kinds of ideas: [a] Ideas that have arrived. [b] Ideas in Progress [c] Ideas in Conflict, and [d] Ideas in Anticipation. It was a great short, sweet and thought provoking speech, except for the fact that Nilekani missed out two crucial things. One, he simply ignored the idea of Agriculture. Given his IT background, it is understandable that he forgets food. Two, he missed out on the 'fifth' set of ideas - Ideas that are taken for granted. One of those ideas that are taken for granted [and hugely one-sided] is the idea of 'Gender Equality.' The practice that I am going to tell you about is a by-product of our skewed understanding of Gender Equality. The section of society that must be in conflict with that idea of Gender Equality is brainwashed over a long period of time into believing that it is blasphemous to be in conflict with that idea.


What am I talking about? Well, I am talking about a privilege South Indian Women have been enjoying since time immemorial - reserved seats in buses! I am talking about 'Ladies Only' seats! 'Ladies Only' seats are something I grew up with.One finds at least nine seats reserved for women in Indian Buses. And it is written all over that it is a 'crime' for men to use a 'Ladies Only' Seat. The Bus Conductor can rip your head off if he finds you using one. A woman can skin you alive in public if she finds you sitting on one that is absolutely her birth right.

The other day, evening, I was travelling from Udupi to Mangalore. It was a hard day and I was very tired. I just wanted to plop on a seat and catch some sleep in the one and a half hour it took the bus driver to take me to Mangalore. I got into the bus to find that most of the seats in the bus were occupied. Only the first 'Ladies Only' seat was empty. There were at least one woman occupying the other four 'Ladies Only' Seats. And there were at least one woman occupying the other 'General Seats' in the bus. There was a woman next to every vacant seat on that bus, except the first 'Ladies Only' seat. As I was planning to take a nap and obviously did not want to fall all over any woman co-passenger, I chose to take the vacant 'Ladies Only' Seat. I did that hoping the next passenger to come would be a male and sit next to me and the women who come would next take the 'Ladies Only' seats behind me. I sat and the bus conductor came screaming. How could you ever think of sitting on a 'Ladies Only' Seat? The hell was breaking lose in the bus. I tried to defend my 'honour' pointing out the women who were occupying the'General Seats'. If one of them could use the 'Ladies Only' Seats, I could sit comfortably where she was sitting and not bother anybody in the process. However, it turned out that the women could sit where they chose to sit and I had to, annoyed, take another bus that left Udupi half an hour later.

'Right to Equality' is a Fundamental Right according to Articles 14 to 18 of Indian Constitution. And Article 15 discusses 'Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas." As I read on, I find that it is a highly pro-female right. It talks about Indian Woman's right to access more than it talks about Indian Citizen's Right to Access to Public Areas. And it is probably based on this Fundamental Right, five seats are reserved in South Indian buses for women.

I talked to a female friend of mine about the way seats are reserved in Buses for women. She enlightened me, giving me the reasons why we must reserve seats for women in Buses. Women are the weaker sex, she tells me. And it is not fair to ask women to travel standing for obvious health related issues like pregnancy and menstruation.

Agreed! It is not fair to ask a pregnant woman or a menstruating woman to travel standing, given the condition of our roads. Yes, please go ahead and reserve more seats for such women. I have no issue with that. But I seriously have an issue when people tell me, as it happens in Kerala, that these seats are reserved to prevent men from groping and feeling up a female co-passenger. Since my friend is a female with a right state of mind, she did not give me that reason. And I have no issues with the Government reserving seats for women in buses on health grounds.

That brings me to the question: Does this mean that men have no health issues which make them eligible to travel sitting? Talking to my friend, I realized we have this wrong notion that the other seats in any bus is meant for male. Give me a break! Those are 'General Seats'. Any body can sit there, irrespective of gender. But what about when there is a rush in the bus and women are occupying the 'General Seats' and a sick man boards a bus? Shouldn't he have a seat reserved for him?

I am sick and tired of this 'weaker fair sex' thing.  I am hundred percent sure that a man will die of heart attack if he is asked to endure the kind of pain a woman undergoes when she is giving birth to a baby and yet they call women 'weaker sex'. I am always of the opinion that if there is something called a 'weaker sex', both sexes are equally weaker. And it is a pity, every law on equality is highly gender biased and pro-women.

And nobody dares to talk about it. Men obviously don't talk about it because we are brainwashed into believing that 'women are the weaker sex'. When ever women talk about 'gender equality' they talk about their dominance than equality. It is not fair.

I have no issues if you reserve 33% of whatever privilege available in India for women. All that I am asking is to reserve an equal portion for men too to make the concept of equality fair and meaningful. Go ahead and reserve five seats for women in buses. But please make sure that you have five "Men Only" Seats as you have 'Ladies Only' seats.

Update: I realized I made a mistake while giving you the number of seats. It is actually, the first four three-seaters reserved for women. And I sat in the first vacent three-seater.

19 comments:

  1. Guess what! You are not alone! This is a problem in the local trains of Bombay. I agree that knowing the crowd of Bombay, you need to have separate compartments for the ladies. But what irritates me is when ladies get into (most often it's not them but their husbands and boyfriends who get them into) the general compartment WHEN IT IS F*****G CROWDED!!! After that we men have to be careful as to where are hands go, where our fingers are, where are we 'poking' her, etc., etc. 'Cuz then we invite the wrath of the women 'Zara dekhiye! Apnaa haath apne paas rakhe!' Well, why don't you go in the ladies compartment then!!!??? I have no problem with women entering the general when the train's empty but please spare us when it's full!
    Besides I think women (and men too, for that matter!) should realise that such 'Privileged Equality' is not going to do them much good! This is as good as the quota policy for educational institutions!
    They might as well have reserved comment boxes for them on this website too!

    ReplyDelete
  2. One more thing I noticed while travelling thr bus is that no seated women give up her sit to old or disabled women, let men alone.

    Its more than 13 seats (nearly 50%) reserved for women in Pune. :(

    The reasons behind this as u mentioned above are OK..but its India..every one wants to take undue advantage of the laws..anywayz good read..keep blogging..

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for reading guys.

    @Narcy, I know the crowded bombay trains. God have mercy on you guys. Well, I am not questioning a woman's right to travel as she pleases, where she pleases and how she pleases. My only issue is that we need to push for reservation for men.

    @Sandy, even I have observed that. I had seen men leaving seats for mothers who travel with their children when, when women who are comfortable in their 'reserved seats' do not even bat an eye lid.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Since MrNarci absolutely INSISTS I share my opinion, here goes:

    For the record, please note, I am not anti-feminist...far from it, in fact. But I AM anti-sexist...

    Like the ladies only buses down south, there exists ladies special trains here in Mumbai too...Agreed these ladies specials in the peak hours reduce the number of women going into the other "general" trains considerably, the point still remains that the number of men who travel in trains in this city far outnumber the women...You don't see any "men only" do you?

    That apart, like MrNarci mentioned, ladies can travel in the gents compartment anytime they please, but when men even accidentally get into a ladies compartment...the scenario is probably best left at that!

    I have to mention that I am not TOTALLY against the concept of "benevolent sexism" Like one of my friends pointed out to me some time ago, India is more than metropolitan cities...In the rural areas, where the situation of women is pitiable, implementing schemes of free education can actually be helpful...You can imagine how many parents would allow their girls to study if they had to pay for it...Girls still ARE considered to be a burden in almost all of India, no matter which century we live in at the moment...

    That being said, I have to admit that reservations in cities just make no sense! On one hand women picket for equality and on the other, want reservations...Need a thesaurus, anybody?

    Lastly, women DO give up seats for others mate...I know I do!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Educated Indians sometimes confuse our rights with those of the West. Right to equality and free speach in India is very different than what it is in the United States. Right to free speach in the US is absolute. In India you could lose this right if you write a controvertial book for example.

    The constitution of India unlike other Western constitutions has many bylaws (called schedules). A lot of descriminatory laws are written into these schedules and traditionally the Indian government has not allowed the Supreme Country of India to make specific judgements on what is written in the "schedules". Indian constitution outlaws caste based reservation but allows it in the "schedules". Same for gender descrimination.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for reading Mythili. [No wonder Narci insisted. He, like me, is struggling hard to fathom the depth of the discrimination that we men face ever since the concept of 'Gender Equality' was invented.:)]

    1. About women giving up seats - I know there are good women like you who do that. But a majority, just won't even look at the women in need when it comes to seats in buses.

    2. I agree with you when you say we need to empower rural women. And in cities, i don't see the point, as you say, in empowering the already empowered women. In fact, it is high time our mindless unreasonable reservation policies changed. Or let us say, we need to think about 2-3% reservation to every section in the society, if it is not possible to do away with reservations.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for reading Hari.

    I don't think I am confused. [ie, if the reference to 'Educated Indians' included me :)] Laws need to evolve. It is not okay to write off a case for change as confusion.

    I am not sure if Indian Constitution denounces caste-based reservations anywhere. As I understand it, Constitution holds that India should implement reservation in such a way that it eventually comes to a position where it can do away with caste based reservation.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh...I can understand... and know what you mean.
    I have seen guys being taken to task by the women, if anybody dared to enter the ladies compartment in Mumbai local trains. On the other hand, many women travel in general compartments too.
    I guess, there are pros and cons of this reservation in buses/trains for women!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thnaks for reading Shilpa :) Sure there are pros and cons for reservation. I am not asking the reservation for women be taken away. I am asking for reservation for men in buses :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. No problem Sojo...I wouldn't know much about buses, since I travel mostly by trains, but yes, majority wont even blink an eyelid when they see ladies standing for ages...the trend is the same no matter what mode of public transport is used in whichever location!

    however, doing away with reservations isn't just possible...I'm not saying it because it's "India" and "that's how things work" (which I don't agree with) I'm saying that because for a country with surplus population, for each section to be adequately represented, it's an herculean task...so some reservations make sense - but only for the underrepresented, mind you...reservations for everything and for everyone, makes no sense...

    In an ideal world, everybody would be treated equally, but since it's not Utopia, and we live in the real world, perfection (in terms of behaviour, attitude and so on) is sometimes just NOT possible...

    ReplyDelete
  11. P.S: of course that's no reason for anybody to be complacent and have a laissez-faire attitude towards how things are...I was just stating my opinion!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mythili, the fact that we live in a real world and not in an Utopia what makes me more concerned. I know blanket reservations do not make sense sometimes. But then how do you address the issue of the unprivileged among those who do not have any reservation? What about a sick man travelling in a crowded bus or train? I think its time we had Movements for Males like 'Feminist Movements.'

    ReplyDelete
  13. Sojo, I absolutely agree...I only mentioned what "actually" happens, as you have yourself pointed out in this post...we as Indians certainly have a long way to go as far as how things "ought" to be are concerned, right?
    If at all you ever happen to form a party/lobby/NGO/movement (etc.!), count me in!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Mythili, guess what, I just found out there is already a movement taking shape in India that is raising voice against Gender Based Reservations. I shall do a post on that soon :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sojo, equality and reservation do not go hand in hand..the articles that you are talking about are not only pro women, but they are pro backward class too (though not relevant, but just an information)..

    I am completely against reservation..

    the purpose of reservation in public transport is just to protect women from any kind of molestation when the bus or the train is crowded..(I still feel that we should learn to protect ourselves than depending on 9 reserved seats to save ourselves from molestation)

    I will stop here..I can go on and on about it..recently appeared for law exams and wrote one whole answer of 7 sides on constitutional provisions for women and backward class :) so it's all fresh in my mind :D

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks for reading Neha.

    Reservation in public transport to protect women against molestation? That is what I just can't agree with. Molestation cannot be an excuse for reservation. Girls should be taught to deal with molesters in public places. If women react, no man will ever dare to molest her in public or in private. Reserving a seat for them to protect them against molesters is not the best way to tackle the issue. We teach women to shy away from molesters and reservation in public transport is one way we teach them not to react to molestation.

    I always wanted to be a lawyer. But somehow, could not be! :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am sick and tired of this 'weaker fair sex' thing...even I am. I want equality without any privileges...reservation is wrong anywhere for anyone.

    Women want to have their cake and eat it too..and in the long run it will never bring equality..I would prefer that first we surrender all the privileges and the demand our rights and ask for equality, only then it will be justified.

    ReplyDelete
  18. wow.... 21st Century Woman Speaking! [I know many women out there Renu, who feel like you do]

    Thanks for reading and the comment :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Best for ladies, thank you for your efforts.All the best.

    Kesineni Travels

    ReplyDelete