Monday, March 21, 2011

The Women's Special Train

This post is about women's emancipation, freedom to step out of the hearth and kitchen, freedom to own a place in the vast place we call the world – an open space we men take for granted.  Men don't really realize how much women have suffered over the generations, they only know how their mothers struggled, but they know nothing further and don't show any need to understand any further. That's why I would like to write a pastoral novel about my grandmother (her guts, valour, spirituality, integrity, etc.) and my mother – the two gutsy women I know. My wife's grandmother was even more valiant, according to her. Her (wifey's grandmother's) husband had died early and the responsibility of bringing up her family fell on her. It is said that wifey's father's exam was the following day and she realized that she didn't have the money to be given as exam fee. So she set out in the night with only a flared torch of dry coconut leaves and walked alone at night almost 15 kilometres to her own home through a dark countryside infested with dangerous drunks and robbers, not to mention animals and snakes. There were no buses those days. Moreover, people could walk 30 kilometres or more per day, or, night. After she got home and received the money she again set off again with another coconut-leaf torch through the night back to her home to pay the fee for her son the next day. That's guts. Those women – hardy and gutsy – were a different breed altogether.

Saturday last, just two days ago I was at Victoria Terminus boarding a train to Belapur. The train was unusually empty. Nobody inside. Which is unusual in Bombay trains which are packed at all times of the day with so many people that a needle will not find a place between their legs. So what's wrong? I think, may be everyone has left early to celebrate Holi and Rang Panchmi. May be, what I thought as overcrowding in Bombay trains is a figment, a mirage created by my own over-active brain.

"Saab, this is ladies special train. Entire train is for ladies."

I get down in a hurry because I could be arrested if I travelled in what is called a "ladies special train" an entire  train meant only for ladies. Imagine that. These spaces are needed in a city which is peopled mostly by single migrants from small villages where women are still exploited. They only have a vague idea of what chivalry is all about. (I guess chivalry isn't dead altogether in this day and age.) They do not realize that in a city women are more emancipated and have a right to expect their right not to be trampled upon. Women have fought for and got these spaces reserved for themselves and they enjoy these hard won freedoms.

So it is heartening when Annie Zaidi speak here in her blog about the freedom she enjoys specially made (after much fighting, I suppose) for women.  These spaces, such as the Ladies Special Train are environs of isolated protected by law and no man dare trespass them. Bombay has special trains, special seats in buses, special taxi services, special queues, et cetera, et cetera for women where a man would be unwelcome, may be, even assaulted with sandals. Hm, I guess I escaped by the skin of my teeth.


Julia Dutta said...

I would have missed it too, if I were a man. I guess there was silence in every 'central' place in the Metros. But all total Special Trains are not uncommon in Mumbai. I remember in the nineties when I was there, there already was one or may be a few from Churchgate to Virar, ladies special, stopping at all stations. Signifies, there are lots of women around, thank God, unlike a disturbing number in Haryana, UP and such male-male states.

Susan Deborah said...

If I should add to your list, many pubs have special days for women where women can walk in and enjoy an evening drink with only women. Some places have womens special days where men can walk in free if escorted by a woman.

The very fact that we are talking about these small happenings is testament to the fact that each step is a vital and precious one for many many women.

Joy always,