[Reader-list] Segregation of Spaces in Terms of Gender

Zainab Bawa coolzanny at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 11 18:07:47 IST 2004

The day when two women fooled five and a half men
(But did they mean to?)

30th June 2004
Byculla to Kurla

This afternoon, I had to visit campus urgently. I stood on platform No. 1, 
at the place where the ladies compartment would halt when the train would 
arrive. It turned out that instead of the usual 12-coach train, a 9-coach 
train arrived and the ladies compartment halted much further than the 
anticipated place. The train was empty since it was afternoon time. A burkha 
(veil)-clad woman with a little baby in her hand came to me and asked, 
“Kurla jayegi? (Will this train go to Kurla?)” I replied in the affirmative. 
Women on the platform panicked and ran ahead to board the ladies 
compartment. I decided to get inside the empty general compartment. The 
burkha-clad woman obediently followed me as I climbed into the compartment. 
Three other hefty women looked at me and said, “Is this the ladies 
compartment?” “No,” I replied, “but let’s just get inside otherwise we will 
miss this train.” The burkha-clad woman was a bit nervous. She asked me, 
“Isn’t this ladies?” I said, “No, it’s not. But you are going to Kurla and 
so am I. We will travel together.”

The three hefty women stood precariously at the door. They were intending to 
get off from the compartment at a station where the train would halt for a 
bit longer and subsequently rush to get inside the ladies compartment ahead. 
At each station after Byculla, they kept dissuading other ladies from 
entering the compartment saying, “Ladies nahi hai. Gents log chadhenge. 
(This is not ladies compartment. Gents will climb in later).”

The burkha-clad woman and me continued to sit comfortably. She was assured 
by my presence and I was enjoying the commanding position. I asked her if 
the baby in her lap was a girl or boy. She said it was a boy. Later, through 
conversation, I discovered that the woman was traveling alone by train for 
the first time. She had said to me, “I usually travel with my ammi (mother) 
or with his abba (the baby’s father i.e. husband). This time, I had to 
urgently come to Byculla for his pediatrician. His abba taught me how to 
travel. He explained the route and the stations on the way.”
“So, do you usually travel by the ladies compartment?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she replied. “It’s better to travel by ladies. You can ask other 
women for directions and help to reach the destination. It’s difficult to 
make inquiries with men.”
She also mentioned that after reaching Kurla, she would have to change 
another train to reach Mankhurd, which is where she lived. At each station, 
she would name the next station and verify with me whether she was right.

The three hefty women who by now were getting on my nerves for their 
over-precautious attitudes finally got down at Dadar station. From there on, 
the burkha-clad woman and me were all alone in the compartment. When the 
train halted at Matunga station, men were waiting outside the compartment to 
board. Seeing us two women, six men (of which one was half-hearted in his 
attempts) immediately began checking signs on the outside to verify whether 
this was a ladies compartment. Some men did not even bother to check; they 
simply drifted towards another general compartment. The five and the one 
half-hearted men decided to enter when they were satisfied that this was in 
fact a general compartment. The half-hearted man got off seconds before the 
train departed. Perhaps he was unsure still. Perhaps, he wanted to play 
safe. Perhaps, both of us fooled him, but did we really mean to?

I meant to fool the men. Seriously. I deliberately created this act, though 
co-incidence played its role. Sure enough, compartments are turning out to 
be laboratories for me where experiments happen and I watch how men and 
women interact in a space which is segregated on the basis of gender.

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