Finding solace in Delhi’s women-only subway car

…I hunted down the metro station, the last one on the line, and waded through the construction debris to the station. There was a giant snaking line of men waiting for security screening – and six women in the women’s line. That reflects India’s shockingly low rate of female workforce participation, which is almost unchanged in 20 years, but tonight I didn’t pause to think about that. Cursory search, slapped down 14 rupees, or about 30 cents, for a ticket, and I joined the human tide up the stairs in a vast, well-swept station. Already things were looking up, but the best bit was to come.

I walked to the head of the platform, where big pink stickers on the cement read “ladies’ car.” Moments later the train arrived, and I boarded what is, by local standards, a pleasantly uncrowded car (there is at least one more body per seat than you would have in Toronto. But that no longer seems weird to me) and I settled in for a most enjoyable trip home.

The car was filled with young working women. Ruhi, on my left, was reading the info packet for the conference on health insurance her new company is sending her on. Sarita, on my right, works in the back office for a big American financial company. She texted wildly with her boyfriend, a “possessive but sweet” engineering student, for her entire ride. The woman in front of me used her phone to talk a disorganized boss through finding some files, deferentially addressing him as Sirji, but rolling her eyes.

Every car on the Delhi metro has a women-only car: their purpose is to thwart the sexual harassers who make bus commuting or even walking on the sidewalk a constant unpleasant gamble for women here, and are a chief reason why many people don’t want their wives or daughters to work outside their homes. Ideologically, I chafe at the idea that women need their own metro car – but in practice, I love riding in them.

Read the whole story in The Globe and Mail.


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