Friday, August 19, 2005

Bus doors, seats and gender equality

Here are some thoughts about doors and seats in transport buses, and gender equality. They are linked to each other!!!

An introduction. The government-run buses in Kerala have just one door, through which all men and women squeeze themselves in and out. Private buses have two, and like in Bangalore's buses, the front one is for women and the one in the middle is for men. In Kerala's government buses, the rear portion of the bus is exclusively for women, so that they are closer to the door. By the same logic, women in the private buses there, and in Bangalore, occupy the front portion.

But this arrangement collapses completely during the rush hour. Inside the bus no one moves in to fill in the vacant space. In Kerala's government buses both men and women crowd around the only door, while in private buses and Bangalore's buses, women mill around the front door and men near the middle door.

The reason is simple: there is only one door for entry and exit. No one wants to squeeze themselves in most awkward positions and often in great pain twice -- once during entry and another during exit -- when one can very well avoid it altogether. So, try to be near the door.

I am told in many places buses have separate doors for entry and exit. One of them is Ahmedabad (where I was for six years) and the system looks sensible, and efficient. Two doors: one at the rear for entry and the one in the front for exit, for men and women.

In buses which have one door for entry and exit, you find it difficult to enter crowded buses (because people are waiting to exit through the same door). Same is the case for alighting, since there is a crowd waiting to push themselves in. On the contrary, in buses with separate doors for entry and exit, it is easier to board and alight.

I am told that the biggest disadvantage of this arrangement -- of having separate doors for entry and exit -- is that men and women have to use the same door: for entry and for exit. I am told (mostly by women) that it is in the best interest of women that men and women are as much separated from each other not just while entering and exiting a bus, but (more importantly) while inside the bus as well.

Harassment of women (by men, that is) inside a bus is rampant. And, women find that squeezing through a crowd of women (whoever they are) is far less torturous than squeezing through nasty, naughty, probing, vulturous, even lecherous men. They say disadvantages far outnumber and outweigh any advantages.

Women are indeed a much-harassed lot, not just inside a bus. So much so, that a number of women get bogged down in this 'harassment problem' -- which for them becomes a 'harassment syndrome' progressively degenerating into the debilitating 'persecution complex'.

Mercifully, the number of such women is on the decline. For, I see an ever-increasing number of women who are getting around this harassment problem (much before it deteriorates into harassment syndrome, and persecution complex). Not with the help of the police or the government or the court or anyone; but by using their own inherent wit, smartness and presence of mind. Look anywhere, you see women, performing as good or even better than men; in an environment where gender is not the denominator.

One such woman told me: "We can do everything that men can do, and in addition deliver babies too." This is supposed to be a counter to what a woman envious of man's capabilities once said: "He may be able to do everything that we (women) can do, but he can't delivery babies." Note the different perspectives to the same issue. The modern woman is woman-centric, while the older version is man-centric.

True, only a very small number of women are able to able to rise above difficulties that have come down generations. The world of harassment for a woman is still very real to ignore. No doubt.

Having said that, does persisting with "separate doors for men and women" and also "separate seats for women" in buses take us any closer to liberating women from horrible men? I doubt. What it does at best is to give a comfort zone for women.

But the danger with this comfort zone is like that of another other such zones: giving one a sense of complacency and being pampered, a feeling of assuredness of being provided for. (Here the whole issue is being looked at from a woman's point of view, but the "comfort zone danger" is applicable as much to a man, when looked at from his viewpoint. So, let me emphasise I am not making a gender difference here.)

That is the danger; the danger of the comfort zone; the danger of separate doors for men and women. The comfort zone is an excellent breeding ground for perpetuation of a womanly attribute that has come down generations; that is the woman's lack of inclination to face up to (what she sees as) a man's world.

Women who haven't been exposed to or used comfort zones in the their lives, on the contrary, are able to move ahead faster and in a much more creditable manner. For, they don't see this world as a man's world where they are always harassed and persecuted. (Even if they do they have found means to get around the problem.) They see this world as a world of opportunities waiting to be made use of.

Let's come back to the bus. Separate seats and doors for men and women make no sense. With one door for entrance and one for exit, men and women move forward automatically and occupy the first available seats. It's easier to board and alight as well, because theres'n't a crowd pushing in the opposite direction.

Now for the issue of a man and woman sitting in the same seat. Let us face it, how real is any danger stemming out of it. I have seen many times, men and women (not couples) sharing seats (though there are separate seats for women). I have never seen a woman refusing to share a seat with a man, a seat going vacant, and instead opting to stand. If the guy stinks, it is not just a woman, even a man wouldn't sit beside him! The point is gender shouldn't be the criterion.

And, haven't we moved ahead sufficiently for us to unshackle ourselves from rigid limitations?


  1. i totally disagree with the 'one door' policy merely from the convenience point of view. Since our buses are crowded people alighting first tend to hover close to the exit. And with one door this tends to block the door for people trying to get out. The bus would also have to halt longer periods at the bus stop so that the passenger can squeeze through to the door. Two doors are a must.

  2. haha.... i asked for this sometime ago...
    thou hast delivered the goods!


  3. Slickthief: I never go back on a promise... better late than never... You didn't tell me how u liked the post....!!!

  4. Hi Pradeep,
    Good observations. Keep the doors open. Hope to read more thoughtful things. Love. Narvijay

  5. hmm....kill the law makers, no separate doors for women, after all the bitch about women's equality. Forget the doors for a moment and look at the parliament. 33% reservation for women in the lok sabha...are these guys joking or what ? If there were any moral, ethical woman in India, she would be the first one to rebel against this...and what about booking counters, cinema halls etc...please...if you want to treat women equally, respect them and do not seggregate them into a minority for the door....hey maybe we should have 4 doors...2 to get in and 2 to get out....

  6. Hmmm.. very good observations and an informative post as usual.