February 27, 2010

Fair sex, unfair ride

It is a narrow alley, dark and dingy, congested with a swarm of people glued on to each other. Everybody is shouting and pushing each other for their selfish motives. Happy are those souls who could manage a small place for themselves. It is all cramped and over crowded. There is just enough space to stand on one leg while the human like hands are tangled like that of a doll. It is utter confusion that exists in the minds of all. Don’t perceive it to be a circus. This is the typical scenario in a ladies compartment of most of the trains anywhere in India – east, west, north or south.

C’est bien! If you have never before traveled in the ladies compartments then it is worth an experience to get a taste of the adventure. Traveling in trains is in itself a feat and it adds on if it is in a ladies compartment. Women of various size and shapes, old and young, literate and illiterate, students and working can be found sneering, smiling, cuddling and even openly at war. It seems like a miniature reality show where each fights to get into an imaginary comfort zone.

“This is a business trip for me” says a flower-seller. When asked her name, she flashes a smile. “I have to carry these jasmine flowers with none of its freshness lost to Ernakulam before dawn.” With no place to even stand, the sixty-something lady literally cloaks her two big baskets of jasmine with her lean frame to save the flowers from being crushed by the cruel Netravati Express crowd.

Before long, the train arrives at a station. There is a huge crowd near the door of the ladies compartment pushing each other to squeeze into the coupe. Lol behold! Among them are the aliens, the male of the humankind. This is an annoyance for the ladies to whom a separate coupe is a big solace. On the other hand, to men, ladies coupe has always been the ‘goods compartment’, translations of which exist in almost all the Indian languages. “Old men getting in is understandable. But young men enter ladies intentionally. If troubled by them, women can call the helpline numbers which are stuck around the trains and lodge a complaint. By the time the train reaches the next station, action will be taken against those men” says Akkamma, the Railway PRO.

Men have a notion that why do women need an exclusive compartment when they no longer call themselves the weaker sex. Roy, a smalltime business man who travels regularly for work, shares this view. His wife, Renee, is the better half in this. “True that women claim to be emancipated but along with it the society should also accept her new status,” she quips. “Men feel insecure seeing her emancipated status and so tackle it by making use of her weakness. Eve-teasing, passing comments, whistling and physical abuse are the mainstay when women travel alone in a general compartment. It is very difficult traveling in the ladies compartment and hence a bigger coach for the ladies should be provided,” she vehemently adds.

“I am comfortable traveling in the ladies coupe. It gives me and my parents at home a sense of security. But it gets so congested. On compartment can hold around 70 people but in around 150 get in and it becomes jam packed.” says Reena a nursing student who travels by Godavari Express.

“We cannot do anything about this. It is the railway board and the ministry who are to decide on it all,” says L. Chinnaraju, the station manager of Coimbatore .

The rear end positioning of the ladies pose a number of problems to the women. This does not enable them to get most of the catering services. Moreover this positioning can cause difficulty and can prove to be dangerous for old women and pregnant ladies while boarding and alighting the train. This has to be brought to the eyes of the authorities and a solution has to be brought to light. Also there is a crying need to increase the number of compartments allotted for women.

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