Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Women and travel

Two recent incidents, one involving a close friend of mine and another to which i was a silent spectator has made me give a lot of thought to this...

One of my friends who traveled from chennai to cbe in the night train alone had a tough time with a co passenger.Based on what he was talking over the phone she was able to make it that he was disturbed.. He took her water bottle and gulped it down fully without even bothering to ask her.. spilled food all over her seat and on top of it offered a 1000rs note when she complained about the water later. In addition he kept talking nonsense. And the climax.. to avoid facing him further.. she retired early only to catch him taking a snap of her using his mobile.. the rest of the passengers in the coach were immersed in themselves ( two were honeymoon couples on the way to ooty probably is what she said). When she complained to the TTR about the snap he brought in policemen and they said they cant do anything unless she files a complaint.This man was still behaving funny but the police wanted her to prove that he had indeed taken a snap of her.The other passengers in her coach were indifferent and couldnt/ didnt want to come forward. luckily a man from the press insisted that they take a look at his mobile.. even then they could make nothing but a blurred image ( obviously) and finally matched it to her face and dress somehow.Now.. the TTR arranged to give her another seat and the police gave a word to protect her. Still, she was alone when she got down at cbe.. what if the man followed her???If not anything else , she had lost her good nights sleep, peace, felt vulnerable and would never again be comfortable travelling alone in the night.

I had always dreaded night travel after having heard terror stories from other women and friends..of men brushing against.. putting their hands " accidentally " on you while passing by.. men smoking/ standing near the toilets etc..

Forget about the public acting/reacting/ helping women in such cases, the second incident shows how they wont even acknowledge the problems but make fun of it. I had to travel by bus to bangalore recently and could get tickets only by KPN. There was a girl who took the window seat next to me and her uncle/ dad had come to see her off. The man was little bit concerned about her travelling alone and kept advising her. He went to the driver then to enquire where the bus would make stops for food or refreshment.. the driverwent on to say" whenever needed". The old man insisted asking.. but dont you stop regularly at some place.. the driver says " We cant.. How can I find out when your daugther needs to piss.. she has to come and inform and we will stop ( the translated version looks less ugly.. these were his exact words " unga ponnuku eppo onnuku varum nu enaku eppidinga theriyum".. ) and laughed. He was so impressed at his quick wits that he repeated the same aloud so that the entire bus can hear it.The oldman couldnt retort obviously as his daugther still had to take the bus. I really havent known any woman travelling alone go to the driver and ask the bus to stop at some place... except for ones very old.. Even if they do.. how safe and convenient is it for them to attend to the natures call in such places.. This may sound cliched however would the driver like someone talking to his mom/sis/wife in the same manner.

Not only these,, its quite common to see men occupying " magalir mattum" seats in the bus. The conductors dont bother either even if someone complains. There are sarcastic comments passed sometimes " you say you are equal to men.. why dont you stand n come?".I dont expect them to give their seats away to healthy and young women.. cant they do it at least for the elderly women/ men.

Further,freedom/comfort in terms of dressing is also misunderstand..I am little conservative with respect to skin show however dont mind wearing clothes that are comfortable and fit the occasion n place. Still it doesnt mean that a man can comfortably rub against me while sitting next to me in the train just because I sport a jean. I have seen a very different behaviour when I wear a salwar which has that traditional look.. Modern dressing( even if decent) is considered as a sign of " accesibility" and different value system.

Still, in spite of all these inconveniences women manage to travel to work and earn. Working women MIGHT have financial freedom but it hasnt come in the easy and convenient way as it seems to be.


Deepak said...

The first incident actually appeared funny until it reached the point where he snapped the photograph. As you highlighted, it appeared to come from a disturbed mindset. Now I am not sure anymore.

I don't travel much by buses overnight - but I don't see why the process should be so convoluted. If all buses make a scheduled stop say at 1AM or 2AM, and the time is announced beforehand people who need the break can utilize the same. With so many night buses plying, it is a surprise that the process is still ad hoc - and that with a major player like KPN.

BTW, in your last line, I agree financial freedom is not the end of it all, but it is a major breakthrough!

Viji said...

Hey, we are still a long way to go while ensuring the safety of women in public places! That too if a woman has to travel alone!

"I will consider India truly free only when every woman can walk the streets alone at midnight without any fear"--said Gandhiji!

When will that come true?