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A woman in Delhi Metro, two women in a bus

December 8, 2011

Many years ago, I was travelling in a DTC bus – or was it a private-run Blueline? – in which the usual sense of calm-with-commotion was disturbed by a sudden act of strategic, small-scale violence, followed by a moment of stunned silence, then some bickering.

Two women were travelling in a bus full of men, and one of them had slapped a man. The man tried to argue and claim innocence, but to no avail. It was obvious to everyone in the bus that the woman would not slap him without a reason. He must have molested her. Most passengers watched silently, eager to closely observe the tamasha so they could relate it to others, like I’m doing now. But quite a few voiced their support of the women, and the bus conductor asked the man in question to get down at the next stop, returning his entire fare.

I don’t remember whether I was one of those who spoke in favour of the women. I do remember my stereotype of the Delhi bus broken. I had imagined, firstly, that a woman would shout and scream in such a situation, but not raise her hand. I had imagined that the men in such a bus would side with the accused – aren’t all men molesters?! – but they didn’t. Most importantly, I had imagined the bus conductor to be least helpful to women – and before some Radicalitis-afflicted young Indian scholar from an American university calls me Classist, let me say I can narrate plenty of other incidents where the bus conductor lived up to the stereotype.

Then, some months ago, there was a lone woman in a Delhi Metro coach so full of men as the Delhi buses used to be. You see the women-only coach is a double-edged sword. Many male passengers openly suggest that now that there is a woman-only coach, women don’t have  the right to claim even a seat markedly reserved for women in a “general” coach. Just as “general” in government jobs, government-run education and welfare schemes is practically an upper caste quota of 50%, “general” in Delhi Metro has become Male. Many, many women put such men in their place, pun unintended, in the Delhi Metro every day. In this case, the woman was near the a door, and a man was clearing trying to molest her, with the usual excuse of “accident”, caused by over-crowdedness. This woman shouted at him, and all the men sided with the accused! When I supported her, they asked me, ‘Why doesn’t she go to the women’s coach?’ I said this is not a mens coach, but to no avail. The argument ended with the arrival of the station where the woman was to get down. The accused man had his ‘honour’ intact. This broke for me the stereotype of the Delhi Metro as a women-friendly mode of public transport in Delhi.

Men should speak up against sexual harassment and violence against women, they should break the silence and by  doing so, break the consensus. However, in crowded public transport, women should consider using this symbolic violence of a slap, a thappad.

Bracing myself for angry comments from men and women alike on this post, I want to mention that I write this because I have been ordered to, by the Must Bol campaign, which is currently running a blogathon, asking people to write blog-posts about the need for men to speak up against gender-based violence. Many have written for this blogathon, you can read all those posts through the blogathon page. I really liked this one by Kunal Malhotra. Please also consider writing a post on your blog; the impact of such speaking out is much greater than you imagine.

This Blogathon comes at the end of an excellent campaign called Must Bol which worked with college students in Delhi to raise awareness against gender-based violence through social media. One of the things that the campaign fellows did as part of their project was to make short films, all of which you can see on he Must Bol video-blog. My favourite video from the series is posted at the beginning of this post.

This Blog is part of the Men Say No Blogathon, encouraging men to take up action against the violence faced by women. 

More entries to the Blogathon can be read at www.mustbol.in/blogathon. Join further conversation on facebook.com/delhiyouth & twitter.com/mustbol

18 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2011 1:29 AM

    sahi hai!

  2. zoon permalink
    December 8, 2011 1:57 AM

    men will never understand that the Ladies special coach or reservations for them is the fruit of such ‘great’ men and their ‘honourable’ deeds…… and it is high time, women hopefully should understand to simply LOATH men…i mean to just discard them like filth when needed X-|

    • December 8, 2011 3:19 AM

      Hmm… Isn’t a reconciliation possible..?? I mean not considering every man like filth, though our kind may have deserved it..

  3. SHIPRA CHAUDHARY permalink
    December 8, 2011 10:39 AM

    Reading this article one can easily reinforce that Delhi is the most unsafe place for women in India…. I see all this as an effort on the part of men to assert their masculinity….

  4. shama zaidi permalink
    December 8, 2011 12:28 PM

    When we used to travel to the University in the late 50’s early 60’s in the DTC, many of us carried broken bottles and long hat-pins to use as weapons. Maybe the area has had this reputation from the days of the Mahabharata where men of the same mentality disrobed Draupadi!

  5. Rashmi Sadana permalink
    December 8, 2011 2:47 PM

    Hey Shivam, I completely agree that it is up to the ‘community of men’ to start responding to the harassment of women in public (and elsewhere for that matter). I think this has to do with individuals making some ‘realisations’ but also for new sorts of group mentalities to take hold. And I also think that yes, part of the problem with the women-only Delhi Metro coaches is that the other coaches become dominated by men. A more mixed space is exactly what would have been in order, and was, for a time. I suppose the gender division reflects other spaces in the city where men dominate and women are meant to congregate on the sidelines, lest they get in the way or ‘provoke’ men – as the bizarrely funny and hopefully effective video you posted speaks to. It also makes me think about how men view public spaces and their roles in those spaces, and how this might relate (ultimately, in some way) to the treatment of women in public. I’m thinking of all the pissing and spitting – these are things I have only ever seen men do in this city, and they do it with such regularity, joy, nonchalance, etc. etc. – across class lines, I might add – and it just makes me wonder what they must think about the outside and what it is meant for and their place in it.

  6. Melanie permalink
    December 8, 2011 3:00 PM

    A good piece but I am wondering about the “thappad.” What if the woman travels on the same route and the man returns to take revenge- some acid thrown on the face. It has happened before. Instead, I would suggest yelling out loud and drawing attention to the man by pointing at him. My experience is that most people will choose not to get involved but it is still worth trying. I have taken up cudgels on behalf of other women in buses but I cannot recall a single instance of a man speaking up in favour of a woman, My feeling is that men tend to stick together, which is why you have the Men’s Club even at work places! The male ego, especially the Indian male ego, cannot handle a put down from a woman, even a well-deserved one!

    • December 12, 2011 12:13 AM

      “My feeling is that men tend to stick together, which is why you have the Men’s Club even at work places”

      That’s a rather wide generalization resting only on flawed logic and scant data. Many work places have Women’s clubs too (in fact having a specific club for women seems to be far more common that having one for men). How does it follow from this that “women tend to stick together” and will not oppose a “fellow” woman, even if she was in the wrong? Notice that your post makes the same argument above with “women” replaced by “men”

      “Gender solidarity” seems to me to be just a rather hackneyed concept with very little factual justification.

  7. Syed Mohd Bilal permalink
    December 8, 2011 7:01 PM

    Agreed that men should be more vocal in support of women but of those few countries I know about, I havn’t seen any “reserved” seats for women in “any” mode of transport. Is reservation there because of the mentality of Indian males?

  8. December 9, 2011 3:07 AM

    Isn’t women’s special coaches a symptom of failed law enforcement?

    Arent the Delhi metro coaches equipped with video cameras? (not a rhetorical question, i have never travelled in the DM)

    Why not stress on taking legal course of filing a complaint with the metro authorities, review the video and get that molester at least face the police? India has enough rules that tilt the law in favor of women than men (only if legal course is taken and the law is enforced)

    Two guys in Mumbai were brutally murdered because they took law in their own hands, and were not ready for what happened later. The same could happen with any woman going the “Thappad” route.

    Problem is with using law as a recourse as well as its enforcement under such situations. Since law enforcement never occurs, there are a few rotten apples in the ‘Men’ species that feel encouraged to go groping.

  9. December 9, 2011 10:57 AM

    @ Nitin. Ah the brave new world of surveillance and legal enforcement. Does it not strike you as a problem that both those means are still in the hands of (largely) men, who are socialised into the dominant values of the world? What makes you feel that wearing a robe or watching surveillance footage will rid them of those values? And wonderful naivete regarding the ‘few rotten apples’ in the men species. I suppose you missed the statistic in the video above – that 65% men believe women should tolerate violence.
    Shivam, this is great work. Thanks for bringing it to us.

    • December 12, 2011 12:17 AM

      And wonderful naivete regarding the ‘few rotten apples’ in the men species. I suppose you missed the statistic in the video above – that 65% men believe women should tolerate violence.

      So the whole argument about all men being bad rests on a random unsourced statistic quoted in a video?

  10. bilal permalink
    December 10, 2011 11:22 AM

    wonder where did this 65% came from?

    • bilal permalink
      December 10, 2011 11:23 AM

      some survey or merely to make a point in the video

  11. December 11, 2011 12:07 AM

    I agree with most of your points, except this quip: “Just as “general” in government jobs, government-run education and welfare schemes is practically an upper caste quota of 50%”

    Why do you think that it is “practically” a quota for the “upper castes”? Aren’t there upper caste poor who are tremendously hurt by caste based reservation? I went to an Indian college with a fiercely competitive entrance procedure that had the “50% quota”, and I my knew several people belonging to the “privileged upper caste” there who came from crushingly poor backgrounds: working their work through school without any any help possible from their families. I also knew several people there both whose parents were highly salaried professionals, and who entered the college only through “reservation for the underprivileged castes”. In my experience a large fraction of the people coming through reservations fitted nicely into the second class.

    I don’t know why it is so hard to see the injustice behind caste-based reservation of any kind: it has now simply become a crutch for well-to-do people from “reserved categories” to get advantages at the expense of the poor from all castes. Making flippant statements like the one I quoted above is a grievous insult to the poor (“upper caste” or otherwise) whose plight is used as a platform to justify more privileges to the wealthy for political reasons.

    It is high time we switched to reservation based only on financial status, and completely banned reservation on any basis of caste, creed or religion.

  12. December 13, 2011 4:33 AM

    not only a blog, it is time men started a men’s movement like women have been doing, so that they understand themselves and their behaviours better and start changing themselves, which would then lead to them neither being violent towards men and at the same time not accepting the many stupid responsibilities thrust upon them. shivam i congratulate you for having taken up this topic and not your usual anti-indian state topics.

  13. December 13, 2011 4:34 AM

    sorry a writing mistake in my comment. … not being violent to WOMEN….

  14. Arnab Kumar Roy permalink
    July 9, 2013 7:52 PM

    Plz raise your voice against sexual harassment

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