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Air India Just Hit A New Low With Its Policy Of Reserving Seats For Women

As though its services weren't bad enough.

13/01/2017 12:53 PM IST | Updated 13/01/2017 5:49 PM IST
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If you already believe Air India is stuck in a time warp with regard to its services, you have another reason to roll your eyes at the national carrier now.

From 18 January, the airline will be reserving all six seats in the third row of the economy class for women on every domestic flight. The idea behind the move is to make women travelling by themselves feel more comfortable, but it has understandably upset many.

Buses, trains and other modes of transport in India already have seats reserved for women passengers out of (a very valid) concern for their safety. The incident of mass molestation in Bengaluru on New Year's Eve was yet another shocking reminder of the vulnerability of women in public spaces in this country as well as of the impunity with which the offenders tend to get away.

Buses, trains and other modes of transport in India already have seats reserved for women passengers out of (a very valid) concern for their safety.

Any woman who has ever walked the streets of Indian cities and towns, or used public transport in this country, is likely to have an unsavoury story (or several stories) to tell.

Marking out carriages of subway trains as exclusive to women passengers or earmarking seats for them on buses may be a pragmatic move, but in no way does it ensure fool-proof safety from intruders. Worse still, women are often clubbed together with differently-abled people, senior citizens and children as deserving of special seats. So even though the impulse to reserve seats may be noble, it comes across as unthinkingly sexist.

Gender-based reservation of seats on public transport is not meant to project women as the proverbial "weaker sex", but should rather be seen as a society's collective failure to educate its men about decorum in public spaces. But apart from simply enabling a hassle-free commute for women, such policies can affect their prospect of being part of the workforce.

In such instances, seats or railway compartments earmarked for women have been facilitators of women's empowerment.

Think for a moment: in the absence of women-only seats in buses or carriages — not that they remain inviolate anyway — in Mumbai local trains, how much harder it would have been for women from middle and economically backward classes to keep their professional lives going. In such instances, seats or railway compartments earmarked for women have been facilitators of women's empowerment.

The same logic doesn't hold for air travel, which is much more strictly regulated by rules of decorum and can impose severe penalties on offenders for breaching protocol. It's true, reports of misconduct on flights recur alarmingly in the daily news cycle. Reports of drunkenness, groping women, squabbles and violence abound. The aggression and obscenity are often directed at female cabin crew, though fellow passengers are not spared either.

To think that reserving six seats for solo women travellers would be the solution to an endemic problem of attitude among men is not only naive but also profoundly sexist.

To think that reserving six seats for solo women travellers would be the solution to an endemic problem of attitude among men is not only naive but also profoundly sexist, especially when women pilots are flying planes all the more often and other women are taking on roles out of the conventional box. And odder still, just how did the airline arrive at the magic number of six? How does it make any difference to the safety of all the other women travelling alone, or in company, in every flight?

Instead of worrying over the safety of women, Air India would be better off figuring out ways of improving its overall in-flight service and ensuring that its flights don't get cancelled or delayed as often as they do.

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