I booked a ticket for Kolkata in a luxury bus. But when I reached the bus stop, the driver and the conductor said it was unsafe for me to travel in the bus as the adjoining seat had no passenger. Since it was an overnight journey, they couldn’t take the risk of allowing a single woman to board the bus. The entire bus was filled with passengers, so where was the scope for insecurity?
We chat up a few single women and learn about the prejudices they face in society
Why is a single woman looked at with suspicion? Why does she have to face prejudices — right from the way she dresses up, to her choice of career, her friendship with male friends is judged and those looking to rent an apartment — well, that’s certainly not done in India.
Recently Nupur Saraswat, a resident of Kolkata, started a petition on Change.org requesting others to sign it. In the said petition, Saraswat says, “I was kicked out of a hotel for being a single woman. I was visiting Hyderabad on work and wanted to rest after a tiring bus journey. When I entered the hotel, I could see the all-male staff looking at me suspiciously. They asked me if I was accompanied by someone. When I said no, they refused to let me check-in. I was horrified! Thank god this happened in the afternoon! Had it been in the middle of the night — I would have been in trouble! Many hotels deny entry to single women, unmarried couples and locals. This is not sanctioned by law. It’s just hotels which are resorting to moral policing. It could mean a domestic violence survivor running away from an abusive home will not be given shelter in a hotel just because she is alone or maybe because she is a local resident. Today it is me, tomorrow it could be any one of us.”
Kripa Kumar, a 34-year-old homeopathy doctor from Jharkhand, says that it is ironical that a country which glorifies the power of Goddess Kali, who single-handedly killed demons, considers women, especially the singles, weak and a risk to others.
“I booked a ticket for Kolkata in a luxury bus. But when I reached the bus stop, the driver and the conductor said it was unsafe for me to travel in the bus as the adjoining seat had no passenger. Since it was an overnight journey, they couldn’t take the risk of allowing a single woman to board the bus. The entire bus was filled with passengers, so where was the scope for insecurity? I insisted that it was urgent for me to reach Kolkata by morning since my father had been hospitalised and there was no other bus,” says Kumar. On hearing this, the driver asked Kumar to call her husband to accompany her on the journey. “When they learnt that I was single, they instantly refused to let me board the bus. The reason — many single women claim to be molested and harassed in an overnight bus journey. Eventually, the bus left without me. I had to pay the price of being a single woman,” she laments.
Their troubles increase manifold when they choose to live alone in an apartment — their ‘well-being’ becomes a matter of concern for all the residents. “I was living in a good residential society in Bengaluru. One of my school friends, who also happened to live in the city, often visited me. This raised many eyebrows. One evening when my friend was leaving, my neighbour, a man in his 50s, held him by his collar and slapped him. I asked the man to stop hitting my friend. Soon other residents gathered, and pointed fingers at my character, labelling me as a woman of easy virtue. I put up a fight, but I was asked to vacate the flat overnight. I had no place to go,” says Shreya Roy, an IT professional. This despite the fact that Roy had mentioned to the owner that she was single and going to stay alone.
Life for single mothers is no cake walk either. Poornima Pathak, a mother of a 6-year-old boy, says that her son was denied admission because she is a divorcee. “I wanted my son to be admitted in a good English medium school. He had cleared the admission test but the moment the school authorities learnt that I was separated and didn’t want to use my husband’s name, they simply rejected his form. I tried to explain to the principal but they threw me out of her office. I made several visits to the school and even reached out to the MLA, but he told me that I should reconcile with my husband for my son. Finally, I got my son admitted in a Hindi medium school as other schools too refused to enrol him,” she adds.
Mumbai-based entertainment journalist Ruchita Mishra says that its sad that even in the 21st century being being single is considered as sin. “If we are single we are always coined as 'bechari', snob etc. We are judged for everything--- the way we walk, talk etc.,” adds Mishra who feels that even her profession makes people raise their eyebrows.
Talking about her struggles, she says, “I have faced difficulties in residential society I live in, in fact when I come 'late' (11 pm), the aunties, and the watchman in the society will ask me, ‘Itna late kyun?' If I work on Sundays, my relatives and society people, will show their disapproval and ask me ‘You don’t take off, you have no responsibility towards your family but I answer them like I don’t care! Even when I am at gym, there are trainers who will say that I am the only girl working out late in the gym and I should be home early to be able to come to the gym early—working out late doesn't suit a single girl.”
Once when her parents were away and she was unwell, she managed to make visits to doctor for for a week. Even the doctor asked her why does she come to his clinic alone and why is he single. He advised that that it is time for her to 'settle down'.
This doesn't end here, every time the 28-year old goes for job interviews the recruiters tell Mishra since she is single it means she can work at an give point of time in the day and will always be available when given a call. “Being single is a choice, and even in a city like Mumbai, there is a section of people who still judge single women. Employers treat you as if you are available and since you are single you have no responsibilities towards anything. We are single and independent, and we know how to take care of ourselves but still there are issues in getting a room in a hotel, going to another place and finding an apartment is tough if you are single woman and if you are in media your life gets tougher, as they stereotype you. Being single shouldn’t be treated as a curse as we are much more responsible and independent than the ones who are committed,” insists Mishra.
Mishra watches movies alone and at times when she asks for a single ticket for a late night show, the person at the ticket counter stares at her and questions her why is she watching the film alone that too at night! “That’s no one’s business if I drink coffee alone or watch movie alone. Why pity us?” Mishra raises the question.