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Women Still Harassed on Delhi's Metro Despite Measures

Categories: South Asia, India, Citizen Media, Development, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Protest, Women & Gender
" I pledge to take the general train compartment, not the 'ladies only'. I would like for the entire city to be made safe instead. #SafeCityPledge. Image courtesy Blank Noise Bog. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 [1]

“I pledge to take the general train compartment, not the ‘ladies only’. I would like for the entire city to be made safe instead.” #SafeCityPledge. Image courtesy Blank Noise Bog. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men, known as eve-teasing [2], is common in India, and New Delhi has the highest number of rape reports [3] among Indian cities.

So when in 2008 the Delhi Metro designated four seats for women only [4] in every train compartment with stickers reading “For Ladies Only”, joining the four seats already reserved for the disabled and elderly, many commended the effort [5]. Twenty-five percent of the daily 2.2 million commuters are women, and it is common on the Indian sub-continent to have reserved seats for women. Metro trains also have separate women's compartments [6] with guards preventing men from entering, and there are special public buses for women only in Delhi.

But did these measures improve the situation? It's debatable. 

In the first two years since the introduction of the women's cars in 2010, more than 12,000 men [7] were found in them and fined a collective 3.2 million rupees (51,000 US dollars). And there are countless stories of harassment on public transport posted online at Delhi Hollaback [8] site and elsewhere.

This blogger told [9] the story of a female friend who was harassed for not traveling in the women's car.

Atima Dhall [10] at RespectWomen.co.in highlighted the life of a women on the Delhi Metro:

Haggard and fatigued, I entered the women’s coach of Delhi metro. That was my first day in college and I was going back home. “Get back you men! You’ll be penalized for standing in women’s coach, came a voice from outside. The security in charge was trying to push men out of the women’s coach through her words. Typical Delhities! They unheard the security in charge, it seemed so to me at least. The doors closed and men shifted more into the women’s coach rather than moving away from it. They were staring, smiling, passing comments as if they saw the feminine crowd for the first time. “Filthy men!”, shouted a woman standing at the end of the coach.

The blogger asserted that “reserved for women” should mean reserved for women alone. “No reasons. No excuses.”

Twitter user Amith P lamented: 

Meanwhile, a tweet [12] captured men taking up the seats reserved for women, even though a woman standing nearby holds a young child. The photo recently went viral and shocked many Delhi residents: 

Some have questioned the need for women's only seats. Prateeksha Pandey [15] asked on Facebook:

1. Why does a woman who is not pregnant/old/injured need a seat? just because she is a woman?
2. If the situation was such that the seat should and must have gone to the woman, why is the photographer clicking pictures?
3. Clicking a picture in Delhi metro is an offense.

While others like Manal Bijoor [16] commented:

It is a nice gesture, if a man gives up his seat to a lady/old person/ kid/handicapped or a woman giving her seat to old person/kids/handicapped. Its nothing to do with equality. Whenever i open the door or give away my seat, i always think about being selfless and sacrificing my own comfort so that someone else will get benefited from it.

The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker [17] blog argued that reserved seats and coaches are not a special indulgence for women, but are an indication of a serious social problem:

* Women’s use of public spaces is seen as a privilege, or even as an encroachment into men’s spaces.
* Until general/public spaces become safe enough for women, society and police to stop treating them as men’s spaces, women must have means to travel.

Cluelesschick [17] commented on the above post:

I think more effort should be put into changing the mindset. Reservation is only a temporary fix. The more we reserve, the more we are feeding the idea that it is not OK for women to be in general spaces and they should be seen only in spaces ‘reserved’ for women.

Activist communities like Please Mend The Gap [18] are working to promote gender equality in Delhi’s public spaces. They have arranged flashmobs on Delhi Metro platforms [19] in yellow shirts with slogans like “Share, don’t stare”, “Real men respect women”, and “Respecting women is masculine”.