We heard the train pull up as we started down the long flight of stairs towards the subway. With both eyes on each passing step and both ears on the sounds coming from the platform we spun around the corner at the bottom of the stairs and darted into the first pair of open doors we saw as they narrowly missed pinching the bulge of my bum. The Delhi subway is really something else. It’s only about 5-10 years old depending on the line and it’s completely squeak free and mostly aboveground, slicing through the major roads atop giant concrete pillars. As it nears central Delhi it does dip into the earth and live out it’s definition as a subterranean way of travel.
After a few minutes of catching our breath we surveyed the scene. There was an oddly high concentration of women. Spencer thought of it first. ‘OH!’ he said, we’re in the women’s only car. So we scooted towards that awkward accordion-like area that marked the arbitrary division between the sexes. I was just a few feet into the women’s car and a nice girl actually warned me that I should commit and go the extra two feet lest I get a fine from one of the many undercover female cops that roam the subway. At the next station, a popular one I guess, I began to see the reality. The doors opened and hundreds of men piled into the rest of the train, while a few girls walked peacefully into their reserved car. It felt strange. I was glad that these women were safe, but here I was amidst a sea of men, all struggling for even the smallest amount of shoulder space while laughing and staring creepily at the women’s only car. I felt like a caged animal, sequestered from my prey, which is ironic because it’s the opposite of what this sort of segregation aims to achieve.
Ultimately I’m sure it’s better for these women, who do risk being groped by the not so occasional creep. India is a very sexually repressed country, and it manifests very grossly in Delhi. But I don’t think the sexist subway helps men to think things over, it might just put a larger bow on the prize for those who do objectify women on a daily basis. It was a strange thing, to be right there on that line in a country that has to enforce rules of personal contact between the sexes because so many people just don’t get it. On one side, hundreds of rowdy guys, crammed into a fast moving subway, and on the other, forty or fifty women who unfortunately have many reasons to fear the mob that awkwardly stares from their sexual seclusion. It only looks like temporary progress to me. The real changes will only come through cultural awareness and, believe it or not, openness about sex and what it means and what it is becoming in this sexually challenged country.