When we are only concerned about self.
By Arun Kumar Bharati
An incident I witnessed. I boarded a crowded train ferrying me to the station closest to home. I smile at a young man seated on a seat reserved for ladies and he gets up, disappointed at being denied a comfortable ride so soon. He smiles back, in a resigned way. I can see that he is tired and I feel slightly guilty for a moment at having to cause discomfort. The very next moment is a flashback of repeated instances of molestation and discomfort caused by men, the guilt is gone and I settle to enjoy a privilege that has been long overdue to the women of the country. Before the train stops at the next station, I doze off. I am jolted out of my snooze when the train stops at the overcrowded station and a substantial amount of the crowd spills into the already overcrowded compartment.
A middle-aged man seated next to me has not left. He is occupying the other reserved seat for women in the compartment and two young women now stand before him to take the seat. One of the two women is visibly hassled. She snaps her fingers in front of the dozing man’s face and nearly yells. “This is a ladies’ seat, leave it!” The man rushes to get up, apologetic. The woman then turns to the row of seated men and gestures to them to move and make space. The two take a seat of what was a single reserved seat. By now, I am visibly annoyed by the event. One of the women then turns to me, questioningly, “What?” I respond by saying that she does not have to be so rude. “I had to talk like that,” she responds. When I disagree, she turns to yell at me. “Why should men sit on woman’s seat? This is reserved for women. He is a man. He should not sit here…”
I take a look at the men staring at her, aggression growing in their eyes, and mine. In what became a monotonous and extremely irritating rant, she explains that she has had a bad day and has, on several occasions, given her seat to elderly men and so on. The men continued to glare at them, and me. I turn away from them hoping she will stop, she didn’t. The ride through the next four stations are a pain as the two women continue their rant against men adding, all too frequently, that women like me are the “real problem” for supporting men and being unkind to the cause of my own kind. I pretend not to hear them, but I feel hurt. There is a vacant expression in the eyes of the man who had dozed off and he, quite suddenly, decides to disembark at the next station.
The women are still at it when the train arrives at the next station. As I get up to leave, I see an elderly man standing by the door. But the women have picked up their bags and placed them on the seats “guarding them from the touch of men” to continue their tirade. I am too tired to rally for the rights of the old man to a seat. I step off the train and am filled with guilt again. This time, it doesn’t go away. The following week, I create a scene on my way back from home to my workplace to accommodate two pregnant women who were unable to board three successive trains because of the rush in the women’s compartment.
As I stood my ground at the entrance to make way for them, a confident executive said, “Pregnancy is a natural thing. Why do we have to accommodate their problem?” A female officer from the train police arrived on the scene to our aid, “Shouldn’t it come naturally to you to understand that she needs to get home before you do?” I had to miss that train ride and waited on the platform for the next train. It was not my favourite ride.