Feminism Revisited

If I had to choose between standing inside an active volcano and standing inside one of Delhi’s overcrowded buses, I would choose the former. Even if a volcano can get as hot as our buses in June, at least I don’t have a million other bodies competing for the same 1 millimeter of space. But this article is not about buses. This is about a particular system which goes on inside each bus – supposed Women Emancipation.

Please, note the usage of the term supposed. And please also note the manner in which this Emancipation takes place. The first eight seats on the left hand side of the bus are booked for Ladies. This means, no man can sit there. That is a rule and anyone who disobeys it can be threatened, beaten up, or mistreated. One question – how does this help emancipate women? Does it not, instead, take the cause of feminism back by a few more hundred years?

First and foremost, Feminism (as I see it) is supposed to take women to an equal footing as men. Hence, we womenfolk strive to prove that the weaker sex is not so weak after all. Women are not weak in mind, body and spirit and hence they are as capable as men to come out into the public sphere. But then, if we reserve special seats in buses, does it not send out the message that women are too “weak” to even travel standing and that they cannot bear the mental strain?

Furthermore, Feminism is an off shoot of the school of thought which denounces subjugation and oppression, and hence seeks to get rid of subjugation and oppression of one gender – the female. It further seeks to stop the practice of clamping down on a woman’s right to attain a particular goal, especially if it is equally deserved. In this case, it is the beloved bus seat. Here, there is a bit of role reversal. The special reservation for ladies stops the men from sitting on a seat which, when they found it, was empty. What is it about the female sex, either superior or inferior, that certain seats just be reserved for them? Explaining in a manner befitting a small child – someone finding a place to sit depends on whether or not he or she is able to grab that before someone else does, being able to reach that seat earlier than the other person. Hence really, it is timing which is the deciding factor of whether or not someone gets the seat. This is common sense speak. But with special reservation, it becomes the gender. In a way, is the man who was legible for the seat not being denied his right to sit on a seat which he found empty? It can boil down to basic denial of rights!

What is one trying to prove by coercing a person to vacate a seat which is equally deserved? This act is definitely not raising any gender higher. It just means that you are subjugating one sex to stop the subjugation of your own sex. This is surely illogical!

Do we not defeat our own purpose by the mere fact that we need to coerce someone to kindly vacate the seat? Any kind of respect cannot be forced or demanded. It comes by itself. What can be done is to change the mindset or the attitude. In my opinion, forcing and threatening a man to vacate the seat “reserved for Ladies” does exactly the opposite. What respect can a tired man have for a woman who asks him to be in discomfort so that she can be a little comfortable?

Today, I traveled in a bus and this man stubbornly refused to vacate the Ladies seat. His anger was visible throughout the time he was threatened and ridiculed. Now imagine this scene, he is full of anger at this injustice. And this anger will not be at the bus conductor who made him get up. It will be at the woman for whom he had to vacate and womankind in general who demand this kind of “respect” and preferential treatment. This man did not believe in vacating his seat, he did not believe the other person (conductor or the woman) was correct in asking him to vacate it and to add insult to the injury, he was ridiculed and mistreated in public. What an excellent feeling! Maybe this would translate into a typical scenario: he would have consumed some alchohol, gotten drunk to drown his sorrow and then proceeded home to beat his innocent wife: emancipation indeed!

The fact of the matter, is that a man sitting on a Ladies seat is not a one-off, once-in-a-blue-moon case. This happens daily, in each bus and each seat. And this form of reservation has been in existence for a long time now – enough time to help men change their mindset. We can see it hasn’t helped. And it cannot, because according to me, the whole idea of reservation is flawed and it cannot help to change men’s mindsets. More concrete measures like helping women gain education, getting a job (even after they marry), making dowry illegal and having awareness programs will help, and not merely reservation of seats in buses.

Shravya Jain


Image source:[http://www.flickr.com/photos/khashi/514806028/]