There are two major differences between "women's reservation" and "equal opportunity": the man and his mother.
Travelling on the Delhi Metro, I discovered the "Ladies Compartment" as well as special seats reserved for women in general coaches. This is good, I thought. We are evolving at last. We've reached "reservation"; we'll get to "equality" soon.
Somewhere between Gurgaon and nowhere, I boarded the train. Sitting in a seat reserved for ladies was a young male in his late 20s. I asked him politely in Hindi if he would get up and make room.
He frowned and screamed at the top of his voice. "Why should I?"
"Because this is a Ladies seat and I get to sit in it. Not you," I replied calmly.
"Aisa thodi hota hai! (It doesn't work this way)," he yelled. I stared. He glowered, but finally moved. I thought to myself, as I displaced the young man, he genuinely didn't understand.
"'Hai mera munda (Oh my male child!),' say so many big-bosomed Punjabi women. I call it the HMM syndrome."
On the same train I saw a family: a husband, a pregnant wife and a toddler. The sari-clad, sindoor-marked woman stood opposite me, bursting at the seams and carrying her cranky daughter, whilst the bloated, yellow-eyed husband sat and shook his leg incessantly and adjusted his underwear frequently. It never occurred to him to give up his seat for her. I offered her mine. She refused. I respected her choice. For her, equality was clearly not an option.
North India, whether in the glossy circles or in (as a posh male friend once called it) "the land of the unwashed", exhibits very little civility in how men treat women. I have seen women hauling suitcases while the Alpha Male watches, barking orders on his cell phone instead of helping. Chauvinism be damned, politeness is as rare as a truffle in Patiala. He is the Man and his Mommy told him he was the superior sex. "Hai mera munda (Oh my male child!)," say so many big-bosomed Punjabi women. I call it the HMM syndrome.
Poor girls. Public transport is still pathetic in the capital of India and women who study, work or merely exist here have always only had one unsafe option after another to travel to and from home. (They should stay home in the first place, no? No!)
Being a recent female "immigrant" into Delhi, I am aware it is far safer to commute in a city like Mumbai -- on the grotty railway lines or in a cab -- than it is in our esteemed Capital. This is not a city that shows respect to women, even with its best clothes on.
India is going through a "skilling and employability" revolution. The jobs are in the hyper-urbanised cities. We are training 150 million young men (and hopefully women) to become masons and entrepreneurs, electricians and retail executives. And so on. Kudos to that. But before they learn the ropes, they need to learn life. Isn't this what public broadcasters and human resources experts are supposed to do? Sensitise people to their goals and roles at work and in society? Where are the critical life skills needed to survive the big city life? Is it any wonder then that these young men, who have grown up sans sanitation and sensitisation come into the big urban opportunity and treat women just as the men treated them back home? They've seen their sisters thrashed or even molested for "modern" behaviour, but terrorised into silence for fear of being ostracised. The farce of female virginity lives on, even while the boys rape and rant. Indian women have done themselves a great disservice by keeping mum about so much for so long.
Our testosterone-scripted movies, our regressive but hugely popular soap operas, our lack of focus on women in public life have all contributed to creating generation after generation of males who still haven't realised that women can do more than cook, clean, bear children and take their abuse. Their loss, I say, going forward. Worse, it's our loss as thinking people if we don't tell them.
Dear HMMs, it is time to wake up and smell the oestrogen. Women are here to take your seats. With or without "reservation".