In order to protect women from the harassment they face each morning on their commute to work, the Indian government has introduced eight women-only trains, called the "Ladies Specials."
Although Indian women are working an increasing number of jobs formerly forbidden to them, the ride to work remains a minefield of sorts. Men have been known to pinch and grope women on trains, shout insults or catcalls, or even just stare lecherously. According to New York Times reporter Jim Yardley, this practice is known as "eve teasing," which seems like a rather benign name for something so threatening. Yardley discusses the possible link between the social change that has lead to a greater freedom for many women and the violent backlash, characterized by a steep rise of violence against women. He writes:
Between 2003 and 2007, rape cases rose by more than 30 percent, kidnapping or abduction cases rose by more than 50 percent, while torture and molestation also jumped sharply.
Mala Bhandari, who runs an organization focused on women and children, said the influx of women into the workplace had eroded the traditional separation between public space (the workplace) and private space (the home). "Now that women have started occupying public spaces, issues will always arise," she said. "And the first issue is security."
The "Ladies Special" trains are an attempt to provide this kind of security for women. Not only do they supply a space where women can sit free of harassment, they are also generally cleaner and more comfortable than the mixed-gender trains. (The Times also has a slideshow of gorgeous images.) "It's so nice here," said a teacher and frequent rider of the "Ladies Special." "Here on this train, you can board anywhere and sit freely." But some men feel the need to protest the trains, and have been known to spray-paint the cars and dirty the bathrooms.
While sequestering women off into their own separate cars seems in many ways like a step backwards, there are times when I've wished we had female-only subway cars in the U.S. Earlier this year, Sadie shared her experiences with harassment on public transportation, and commenters quickly chimed in with stories of their own. It seems like almost every woman living in a city, and many who just visit, has a horror story about the creeps that grope, harass, molest, or otherwise frighten them. But as Dr. Ranjari Kumari, director for India's Center for Social Research, points out, separate trains can't be a long term solution. "You really need to make every train as safe as the Ladies Specials," he said.