At the same time we at CARE started this Women’s month campaign, I was fortunate to be travelling around India. I make regular trips to India, and have visited many aspects of the country, but one specific moment got me thinking. As I walked up the platform for my 6am train from Mumbai to Nashik, I passed the “Ladies only” carriage.
Why do the trains need ladies only carriages? For a railway system inherited from the British Raj, which is arguable one of the single greatest positives left from colonial times, “Ladies only” did not come as standard. In fact they were only introduced widely in the 1990’s. This was in response to an increase in number of women travelling on trains as they entered the workforce rather than just being housebound. This led to an increase in complaints of a phenomenon called “Eve teasing.” This is a euphemism used in India for public molestation or harassment of women. Rather than increasing enforcement and protection for women and more severe punishment for perpetrators, the then Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee introduced these carriages.
A serious problem was identified, a problem deep rooted in the culture, so much so it has its own phrase, yet the proposed solution was not to go after the root of the problem but give women security while they are on a train. What happens when they step on to the platform, or walk down the street?
Women shouldn’t need this level of protection/separation. Women should travel in normal carriages, without fear of abuse, men shouldn’t get away with it, the solution is not separation but persecution of offenders.
The issue with the “ladies only” carriage is only one of the many aspects inhibiting Indian culture that symbolises the gender inequality and discrimination. However the way an issue is identified and the proposed solution shows how endemic and deep rooted it is.
“We are all human, we are all the same, we all deserve the same respect, protection, security and opportunities.”
Would it be acceptable to have a “Whites only” or “Blacks only” carriage, or a “Muslims only” or “Homo-sexuals” only carriage. The “Ladies only” carriage is a form of protection, however what it actually does is make it okay for those ladies not in this specific carriage to be treated disrespectfully, it gives the impression that men in those circumstances can be disrespectful.
“Ladies only” carriage is in my view only a short term avoidance to the issue, it provides security and protection while the lady is on that carriage, its like using a pain-killer that does not heal the wound.
The change has to come from policy, from the system, from the men and women of India. Railway police need to be more vigilant, other passengers must speak up, both men and women. Railway capacity needs to be increased so its not as congested all the time. But most importantly the men’s attitude must change, they must be taught and conditioned to respect and treat all as equals. The seeds must be planted by every mother, father, teacher and everyone that a person comes across. Change can not happen overnight, but we must start somewhere and start at the root of the problem. In this generation this must stop
We at CARE are doing our bit, at all our supported schools we use the tools of education to teach girls and boys from a young age what is acceptable and what is not, that all human beings must be treated equally and respectfully.