Over the last two days, I was part of a conversation that can be seen as a metaphor for the way ‘the privileged’ look at reservation. (Read this one about privilege – some interesting points made). I’ll leave the metaphorical interpretations to you and make a few points that I wish to strictly about reserving seats for women in buses.
When are reservations needed (or administered)
My personal experience tells me that reservations are needed (or administered) in situations where there is a one has been historically marginalised (or even is being marginalised).
All reservations – based on caste/ creed/ race/ gender – are aimed at lending a helping hand to a group that has been marginalised and need help to reach even moderate levels of equality and acceptability. How this reservation is handed out is perhaps a topic of debate but you cannot argue generally that reservation is bad. Again I am digressing. This is about BMTC alone.
Now then, there is a reservation of seats in buses (16 out of about 64 seats in Bangalore and 50% in Chennai – as some Chennai folks tell me) to ensure women are given equal (or near equal) opportunity to avail facilities. Reservation, by definition, is a claim to something. If 50% seats are reserved for women, it’s understood that a woman is entitled to it and can be used by others in case there is no woman to claim it – same goes for seats reserved for the elderly and disabled as well. Given that, a man is expected to get up from his seat and give way to a woman who is entitled to it, by law.
If that is clear, here are some scenarios.
Scenario 1: If a man is seated on a women’s seat and a woman is standing. He is expected to give it up for a woman who claims it – social protocol says he must volunteer, but then who cares, right? So, when the seat is unclaimed, he can stay seated there as long as he wishes.
Scenario 2: If a man is using a seat reserved for a woman and a woman claims it, he has to give it up. Legally, it is her seat. Now, all you standing on your moral high grounds can argue about the right-ness of a woman to claim it. But she is entitled to it. She claims it.
Scenario 3: This is the interesting part. If a woman is seated in what is not reserved for women, she may not be legally asked to give up her seat simply because it is not reserved for a man. It is simply not reserved for a woman/ transgender/ elderly/ physically challenged or whoever else. That seat is available on first-come-first-served basis. If you have problems with that law, go fight in the court. DO NOT go around breaking the law. That is like saying – “I don’t think a licence is a fair way to judge my driving skills. So, I will drive around without it.” Absurd, to say the least.
In this context, let me bring in all the relevant and irrelevant points.
The relevant ones:
The point about women given the reservation of seats because they are often sexually harassed by men is greatly valid. More often than not, it is the men that harass the women. One of the reasons the law of reservation exists is to protect women from such situations.
The point about giving the marginalised an opportunity to speak up for themselves is very valid. In this case, women are often victims of patriarchy. 50 years ago, a woman would have been petrified of asking a man to give her a seat – mostly even standing out of respect to men, stranger or otherwise. So, a reservation gave them claim to it. This is greatly relevant even today.
The irrelevant ones
Chennai is more cultured than Bangalore – Great! Keep the change! (Oh yes. I am feminist you see? I have no sense of humour. Sorry).
About sexual harassment – if your point is that there are assholes among women and therefore they should not be entitled to reservation, it is irrelevant. All men in the world did not get murdered because some are rapists. So, sorry.
If it outrages you that all women are playing victims because they are even now being deprived of what is rightfully theirs, you are irrelevant. No you are not. You are actually harmful to the idealistic aim of equality in society.
Reservation will not save women from gropers. #ok
And in the end, if you have half a thing to say, please type it out in the comments section. I am not an expert in reservation and I’d like to hear from you if I’ve been mistaken. Try and keep it relevant though! :)