[I wrote this in 2004, when I was working in Delhi. It seems as relevant now as it did then. So here it is. Oh, and by the way, some hotels' plans for a ladies' only floor have become reality since I wrote this piece.]
Read in the ET the other day about how hotels are coming up with special options to make female business travellers feel comfortable. Quite a few have replaced their male room service staff with female, one has gone to the extent of planning a ladies’ only floor.
Interesting idea. I can understand it. I wouldn’t be 100 per cent happy if I were all alone in a hotel room in a strange city. Did it once in Delhi when I had no relations there and so nowhere else to stay. Was very nervous the whole three days I was there: made sure to cover the keyhole in the door, was paranoid about locking the door, did not call for morning tea till I was bathed and fully dressed. Never, never answered the door in nightie and dressing gown…
But I still wonder what’s happening here. Special floors, special staff, special trains in Bombay, special counters and windows at places like railway stations, all special for women. Are we creating a parallel world? A zenana, all over again?
It’s a difficult issue, in a country where women are just about beginning to emerge from their homes into the outer world. And I’m not talking about women like me, completely urban, westernised in thinking (because, like it or not, that’s how it’s perceived), who’ve been there and done it. Though even I don’t feel complete freedom. There are too many occasions when I have to tell myself, be sensible, tone down, understand the situation and circumstances and behave accordingly. For instance, I am less flamboyant in Delhi and Calcutta than I am in Bombay for my own safety.
So in Delhi, a ladies’ floor, a ladies’ bus, an auto driven by a lady driver… if available, these would be my first choice. If not, I’d be in the ladies’ seats, or instinctively join a group of women. Safety in numbers.
But doesn’t this lead to a skewed reality? Women-only conveniences like this are essential to encourage women to get out there and lead a full life; but how full can the life be when it’s still removed from life? When we’re still separate. Like the newspaper reports: Two people, including a woman… Two people, INCLUDING a woman? Aren’t women people?
And how will men understand that women have the right to do everything men do (at the least) if the women DO do everything men do, but in women-only slots? How will women’s changing behaviour and freedom make any sort of impact, become something that’s normal, if the men never see it happening in their world?
Things like this only underline the fact that it’s a man’s world. Like reservations for women in Parliament. I understand the thought, but I resent it too, and oppose it totally. I don’t want to live in a parallel world, even though it’ll be easier and more convenient for me. I want my place in a PEOPLE’s world. Equal opportunities for ALL.