By Karuna Jha
Have you ever had a chat with a colleague about a new eatery he’s discovered? Have you ever been excited to hear about delicious food at reasonable prices? Have you ever felt an urge to go there the very next day only to have your colleague point out matter-of-factly that women do not normally frequent such places?
There are a huge number of such eateries in our country which are considered to be inappropriate, unsafe or even embarrassing for females to visit. A Catholic girl traveling next to me in a bus from Goa to Bangalore preferred to remain seated in the bus at dinnertime. She was afraid of getting down and going to the dhaba where the bus driver had organized meals (free for him in exchange for the rest of us paying). Bus passengers are usually men or married women in the company of their husbands. So there was little consideration for an unattached being traveling alone by bus when it came to choosing a place.
I suppose she may have been scared of meeting the same fate as Sheila Dixit prognosticated for “adventurous” ladies like Soumya Vishwanathan if she stepped out in the darkness of the highway night. I did go in for curry paratha. What I got as a side dish was the usual mix of wondering and disapproving looks along with lusty stares of multiple individuals varying from fellow passengers to certain elements who always surround such eateries. Now, you may say it was at night when women are expected to be accompanied. But would it have been different during the day? I am reminded of the outskirts of Bangalore city. Outer Ring Road. Men and women in neatly pressed shirts slog 24/7 in posh glass buildings representative of India’s newly acquired prosperity. I walk 200 meters down the road towards a junction and stop at a darshini. Even prior to my entry a pair of slimy glances welcome me to the place. There is not a single woman there. Another stare from a happily chewing face. Then, one more. These looks are not directed at my clothes or my body parts. They are pure curiosity. Why does she come here? Can’t she see women are not welcome here?
There are no written rules which prohibit women from entry anywhere in India. But it has been understood and complied with that there are places we better stay away from. If a man can savour the best of Indian cuisine just about anywhere he wants, why can’t I?
Karuna Jha grew up in Moscow, studied German linguistics in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and worked for an international NGO before starting her career as a Marketing Executive with an IT company in Bangalore. She is highly passionate about Simone de Beauvoir, gender equality and women’s emancipation in India and worldwide.