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.