Indian Trains: Where Gender Segregations Works

Indian Trains: Where Gender Segregations Works - Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India

For all the traveling I have done thus far in my short life, I still feel very American. I no longer eat chicken nuggets at McDonalds and I can’t remember the last time I celebrated the 4th of July, but at the end of the day, those are my roots. Therefore, the details of the Civil Rights Movement have been burned into my memory. The term “Separate but Equal” stirs up feelings of disgust and dismay. Then, India made me question everything I’d once learned. Allow me to explain.

I spent the early part of 2014 holed-up in a yoga institute in North Mumbai, India. I wanted to bring more peace into my life while simultaneously overdose on delicious Indian food. It was a fabulous experience from which I came away with countless good memories and friends from all over the world.

One of these new friends was an Indian woman from a nearby province. The two of us often took day trips to the center of Mumbai to sightsee, shop, eat, chat, and get away from our little cloister for a few hours.

I was attempting to climb into the nearest car when my friend pulled me away with a very concerned look. “Don’t go in that one!” she said.

It was on the first of these outings when I learned that train cars in India are segregated. The two of us were awaiting the train munching on chikoo fruit when it arrived and as usual, chaos ensued. There were people jumping on, jumping off, pushing, pulling, shouting, and running–and it wasn’t even a peak hour!

I was attempting to climb into the nearest car when my friend pulled me away with a very concerned look. “Don’t go in that one!” she said. Due to the surrounding madness, I didn’t even question her and proceeded with her to the front of the train. I noticed that it was less crowded, more spacious, cleaner, and even smelled nicer. Perplexed, I asked my friend if we were in first class. “No way!” she laught “This is a women’s car!”

A what?! My friend explained that in India, women and men do not ride the trains together. Women may choose to ride in the men’s car if accompanied by a male companion, but men are under no circumstances permitted entrance to the women’s cars unless they are small boys traveling with their mothers. I was shocked and had momentary flashbacks to Rosa Parks and separate black and white drinking fountains. My friend, though, told me that this segregation system was a good thing, and was put in place in order to protect women from the piercing eyes, passes and unsolicited gropes of crude men.

“Can a lone woman ride in the men’s car if she chooses to?” I asked my friend.

Perplexed, I asked my friend if we were in first class. “No way!” she laught “This is a women’s car!”

“I guess,” she answered, with a tortured expression. “But why would she want to? Didn’t you notice all the men staring at you when you almost boarded their car?” The shameful truth is, I hadn’t. I was so focused on pushing in with the crowd that I hadn’t even noticed that the car was only full of men, or that they were eyeballing me.

Weeks later, I took the same train with a male friend. It was just us two, and I didn’t know where to exit, so I was forced to accompany him into the men’s car. Though it wasn’t a peak hour, I felt a dozen eyes watching my every move from all directions. I was the only woman in the car. Though I did not feel like I was in danger, I did feel very uncomfortable.

I’ve taken a few lessons away from these experiences. Most importantly, pay attention! When I had tried to enter the men’s car that first day, I momentarily forgot the most important rule of traveling, or living for that matter: to observe. Coming from my culture and background, I assumed that I could enter any car I pleased. If my friend hadn’t been with me, I would have experienced a serious shock.

Second, I remembered how different two cultures can be. If sexes were separated in American trains, there would be riots across the country. But in India, the women actually feel safer and more comfortable with their own train cars.

So, is it morally unjust to separate the sexes in Indian trains? The American in me screams, “This is sexist and wrong!” But another voice in me replies, “It works fine this way in India.”


indian trains
Madison in India

Indian Trains: Where Gender Segregations Works

About Madison MacNichol

Madison MacNicholMy name is Madison MacNichol and I grew up in a small town in Idaho, USA. During my university years I studied abroad in Costa Rica and China and since my graduation have worked and traveled my way back through both countries in addition to Cambodia, Thailand, India, Romania, Mexico, and all of Central America. I am currently perusing my graduate degree in International Communication in Europe. I know that travelers are a special breed and love to share and hear experiences from beyond the boarder. I hope to always to explore this richly diverse and wide world we all call home and encourage you all to do the same. There will be bumps in the road, but fear not, what is up ahead is far too spectacular to miss.

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