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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The General Compartment


It is with a leap of my heart that I get onto the general compartment of the local train. Not the good kind of leap that happens when, for instance, you see That Cute Guy You Like, but the bad, scary kind which makes you think you might have a heart attack. It is a leap of fear, of trepidation, of anxiety, and it only happens when I get onto a GENERAL compartment and never when it’s a Ladies compartment. I always prefer to travel in the latter but it’s not always possible to find one when the train stops for just a couple of seconds at the station.

Once inside, I do not sit immediately. I stand for a few seconds and look around for a seat next to some other woman. If there isn’t any, I find the most ‘decent’ looking man that I can spot and sit next to him. Or else, I just keep standing hoping that more women will eventually come in to give me company. Whether sitting or standing, I look down and avoid making eye contact with anyone. I am afraid that if I do, they will decipher the fear that lurks within me and try to take advantage of it. How, I am not sure, but I am far too frightened by all the horror stories of harassment, molestation and rape that the papers are always full of. Granted, I am not in Delhi or its nearby cities, where all the bad things seem to happen, but still, Hyderabad is big and bustling and relatively unfamiliar too and I need to be on guard all the time, especially when I am travelling alone. In the general compartment of a local train.

In my head, I know I am being far too paranoid and judgmental by viewing every man as someone who could potentially harm me, but I would rather be unreasonable than victimized. Even if nobody in the compartment pays me the slightest bit of attention, I am alert and tense throughout the journey, and of course, completely covered up. My face is hidden behind my dupatta and I prefer to wear long sleeves and of course, full-length pants. I am completely in support of all the arguments that say a woman should dress however she wants to and not live in fear of being a victim of crime, but there is no way I can do away with the dupatta. In some strange way, it makes me feel so much safer, protected.
Maybe some day I will look back at these train journeys during my Hyderabad days and laugh about the fear that I feel. Maybe some day no girl will have to hide her face behind a dupatta to feel safer. Maybe.