On Taking The Bus

This is a guest post by Deepti. She just finished her Masters in communication. A connoisseur of good and meaningful writing, she spends half her day glued to the thousand feeds on her Google Reader. She spends the other half, nurturing an unhealthy obsession for American crime procedurals, cinema, and dissing popular culture. She researches telecom policy and accessibility for an NGO in Bangalore and waits for Fall, when she can go to Grad School and get her PhD.

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It’s never a random decision. Oh I think I’ll take the bus… nope can’t do. Not dressed like that anyhow.

Being a girl in India means many things.

It means you’re valued less, you’re harassed more.

It also means that you have to be very very careful about how you choose to cloth yourself when you go out. Am I going to a conservative neighbourhood- definitely not the skinny jeans then? Can I walk around in boxers in my home? Sure but always be ready to pull the fastest trick change into pajamas if a guest comes calling.You’d be amazed how many times I have changed from perfectly okay clothing to go somewhere because; well… it’s just not okay to go there.

I know all about, I have the right to dress how I want and not get raped.

But I also know something else- I most definitely don’t want random men to stare at my legs when I walk down the road in a skirt. I don’t want to be whistled at by random teenage boys on bikes. I don’t want to be standing in a bus and have to bear uncomfortable staring from the men at the back because my shirt is clingy.

Does that mean I have to always dowdy up? No not really, because you see my upper middle class privilege lets me do all kinds of things. It lets me have a car that I can drive around in wearing whatever the hell I please. It lets me go to malls and restaurants and coffee shops and plays in revealing clothes where I can walk in confidently with the expectation that no one will look at me threateningly. Because that’s not what ‘people like us’ do now is it?

But yes, I police myself. I don’t wear skirts to work even though I want to because I have to take the public bus. And even if this is Bangalore where its quite okay to dress how you like because this is where the cool people live, And even if the bus I take is a nice red Volvo with air conditioning and padded seats and really helpful drivers and conductors and ‘a better class of people’ who can afford the Rs 30-40 fare and who don’t ‘ostensibly’ engage in leching (It’s called ‘checking out’ if it’s done by software techies instead of day labourers, I believe), I don’t because I still have to stand everyday at a bus stop for five minutes waiting, when I all I want to do is be swallowed up by the earth because I can feel every single man staring at me.

This constant mortification, even for five minutes, is not a price I am ready to pay for the joy of baring my legs. Call me a coward, call me a bad poster example  for liberation, but I won’t do it.

The skirts meanwhile, lie unworn…

P.S. Any comments which hint at malice or scorn over the fact Deepti doesn’t wear the clothes she likes, and is bringing down the name of Feminism by extension will be promptly deleted. Before you think of commenting, keep in mind the geo-political location of the writer, that will curb a little privilege showing too. I’d also like to remind you about this wonderful page that is still open for guest posts.

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks, as ever, for an outstanding post. I definitely police my clothing here in Canada, though usually for less appalling reasons – and I’d not thought of that lack of appalling reasons as an element of privilege before, so thanks, too, for the insightful thoughts. I think it’s absolutely a feminist act to choose one’s clothing, for whatever reasons. Feminism is, or should be, about the freedom to choose, even when women choose things we personally wouldn’t. And for me, anyway, feminism includes the right to go along with the kyriopatriarchy where it makes one’s life easier, without being held up as the nonpareil or pariah of those who share $TRAIT or $COMBINATION_OF_TRAITS with one.

    Excellent post, always nice to start my week with some solid feminist analysis.

    Reply
  2. D.

     /  March 31, 2011

    This post makes sense to me in a most personal way. I live in Delhi, and taking the bus to college ( which I don’t always, because car-pools and cabs are more convenient) involves serious sartorial decisions. It means that I don’t wear short-sleeved dresses. It means I hesitate before wearing “tight” tops. And yes, of course, the skirts lie unused, as you said. In my case, that includes even the enormously long, “modest” ankle-length skirts that I sometimes feel like wearing to college just for the fun of it. I can totally sympathize with you, Deepti, and I really appreciate your courage in speaking up about this . You’re not a coward at all. Lots of us go through this but few of us think of this critically. I wanted to write a similar post on my experiences, as a woman, with the Delhi public transport system, but you’ve covered most of the points beautifully. Delhi is slightly better now because of the Metro — but even there, it’s at the cost of physical segregation ( as you know, there are carriages reserved for women in the Metro trains) which is kind of difficult to get one’s head around. I mean, it’s a great improvement on the earlier system, but still– there’s something weird about it. Thanks again for the post 🙂

    Reply
    • I used to live in Delhi before and I know exactly how you feel even though I didn’t have to use public transport every day. Inside the LSR campus ( I was a hosteler), it was like our own coccon- we all pretty much wore what we wanted and I think the only rule was about not wearing shorts to the mess hall. But outside was a whole different game- my heart would literally start pounding if it was 7:30 in the evening and I wasn’t safely behind the campus gates. Wearing jeans on a bus was a big victory 🙂 I’ve also happily donned short skirts and run around the city at 2:00 in the morning when I had the safety of my friend’s chauffeur driven car. Sometimes it almost feels like the wheels decide your clothes for you.

      Also, the metro has ladies only coaches now? I didn’t know that but totally saw it coming.

      Reply
  3. Every line read, reminds me of atleast 10 incidents or more of how much crap I have to bear with just to dress comfortable or a little less(sleeveless or knee length) to keep the heat at bay. I had an impression that unlike mumbai, bangalore was a place where women were less stared at… you just gave me a reality check! It’s India! How can a woman be expected to receive respect!

    Reply
    • I understand the general frustration with sexism and patriarchy — that’s an understatement, I swear — but let’s not generalise. Mumbai and Bangalore are better off when it comes to body policing than say Delhi or Harayana. Because of our metropolitan statuses, high tourism and so on, we do have more privileges as compared to other places.

      By saying “It’s India! How can a woman be expected to receive respect” you’re trivialising the experiences of people in other places who face much harsher body policing. Let’s avoid doing that okay?

      Reply
      • Bangalore is definitely a lot better when it comes to the staring. Just today, I saw a girl at the bus stop wearing a skirt:) Plus the public transport here is tons better than other cities. But thats what’s so completely exhausting about street harassment- you can go 364 days in a year without anybody throwing a glance at you, but that one day some dude decides to give you a dirty look at a signal , you go the other 364 days thinking of ways to not have that happen to you. And honestly -they will stare at you no matter what you wear, only the level of creepiness with which they do it goes down.

        Reply
        • You mentioned other places. Do you mean outside our country? If not, then my point explained. Also, if you are saying mumbai (idk about bangalore) is better off than delhi then yeah, only in kidnapping and rape cases. Although, the competitiveness is increasing![yay x-(] If I have to walk down the road every single day worrying about not just about what I’m wearing but about how much distance is between me and every bugger and the chances of every man groping me(at the station, in the market, every damn place!) except for my college for obvious reasons… my statement of disrespect is justified(also clothing hear doesn’t make a difference, if you’re a female you WILL get groped. Btw, I meant physical respect. And if you are under the impression that tourist presence makes any difference you are terribly mistaken.

          Reply
          • No tourists don’t get special treatment — in fact white women have *more* chances of being assaulted sometimes. Other places like Delhi, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh — places I have been in — I’ve had to wear salwar kameezs ONLY and still have gotten stares and groped.

            I agree with you, I’m from Mumbai too and I do get apprehensive while using public transport. However, we can still wear what we want — relatively speaking — and reaching home at 11 pm for instance isn’t a *reason* for people to rape you — I’ve heard my relatives victim blaming who said, “Well do you blame him? What was she doing out at 12 am?”. So in that regard, Mumbai is a ‘safer’ city.

            Reply
            • I am lets say relaxed that chances of me getting raped are not thar high but isn’t getting groped though not equally worse but bad too…. ?

              Reply
              • Can definitely agree on that. There is a ‘fear’ — for the lack of a better word — that makes me ‘choose’ appropriate clothes and so on, but I definitely know I’m in a less vile situation as compared to other cities.

                Reply
  4. D.

     /  April 1, 2011

    The ladies-only coaches were started, if I’m not wrong, a little after the Commonwealth Games. I must admit, day scholars like myself don’t *appear* have too much of a terrible time wearing jeans on a bus now. However, that may be an over-generalization from small sample size – since factors like the time of the day (or night) and the route play a role too. And yeah, we still don’t feel particularly safe going out anywhere in the evening.

    Reply
  5. I live in a America, and it’s still an issue. What you wear is policed by both men and women, and rude comments abound…and those can be the least of it. I don’t think it’s anti-feminist at all to choose clothing that allows you to navigate your culture in the greatest comfort. It is not required of us to make ourselves visible targets all the time; visibility is a political act, certainly. But sometimes you just want to get to work and not have to get into it, and you absolutely have that right. Every moment of one’s life doesn’t have to be a battle. You have to live there; any would-be critic can look to their own questionable activism…such a critic giving you a hard time for yielding to the expectation of modest dress is as guilty of body and clothing policing as the ones who would hassle you for not meeting the expectation. It’s two sides of the same counterfeit coin.

    Reply
  6. I relate to this post, like all upper middle class girls would. Shorts and spaghetti straps are worn with gay abandon at home, but immediately covered up with a t-shirt when the dhobi comes home.

    I live and study in Bombay, but still a lot of girls who travel to my college in far south bombay dress conservatively as opposed to the one who are priviledged enough to live near the purely upper class localities of my college.

    Any time you would like to go to a more suburban and and less privileged place we turn to Indian dresses which are promptly exchanged for shorter more “fashionable” tops and skirts which you can wear in south bombay and Bandra.

    I have a friend who lives in a locality where only the people of her community stay, she wears her short clothes underneath the religious garb for night outs, so she can change. Such is the life we girls lead, where totes are full of more revealing clothes and heels which are unfit for travel in local trains.

    Reply

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