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.