“The metro in Delhi has a women-only compartment, and I have been travelling in it ever since I started taking the metro to my college. I don’t need to tell you how challenging it is for women to navigate public spaces in this city. Public transport – especially the Delhi metro – is the cheapest and the most accessible mode of travel today, and thereby potentially the most unsafe. Women’s compartments present a relatively safer space even if not the most practical; there is one women’s compartment for every 6 or 8 compartments in a given train, so it is the most crowded during peak hours. And I – as do many women – still prefer it, even when it means I don’t get a seat while travelling home after a long day at college.
I have tried the general compartment on a number of occasions, and have felt on edge every time. Usually, I like to read, play games on my phone, or just catch up with a friend over chat while travelling; in the general compartment, I didn’t dare take out my phone from my pocket – I was uncomfortably hyper-alert. One might say it’s mostly in our heads, but living here, you get conditioned to be on the defensive around male strangers, and it is mentally exhausting.
And that’s what makes me wonder sometimes about the prudence of the women-only compartment; it makes us accustomed to fearing the proximity or presence of men while travelling. In a society that is fighting for gender equality, I think it is important to be able to feel safe around men. Nonetheless, the women’s compartments are still a crucial part of my daily travels in the city, and I know many women who probably wouldn’t even be allowed to travel alone if not for them. I would call them a necessary evil.”