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The Metro - A boon
Magnificent India

The Metro - A boon

Vijay Sanghvi

Rubina Hussain was floating on clouds as she returned home at Jama Masjid from Connaught Place with a letter of offer for the front Desk Job with a prominent tours and travels agency. She was tall and pretty with poise and an attractive demeanour. The agency owner Hemant Sharma was impressed by her academic achievements too.

Her elation did not last long as her mother Seerat though happy at the success of Rubina in obtaining a job offer said she could not do it as travelling to her office and returning home safely was not possible. In any case there was no bus service connecting Jama Masjid with the rest of Delhi. Getting a three-wheeler every day was impossible and taxi was expensive.

Rubina did not have to travel by public mode transport as she could travel with her friend to and from Delhi University campus in her friend’s car. Sometimes both used bus service also but without burqa there was no identification mark to separate them from other girls. Hence, she never had experienced what the burqa clad women invariably have to. Their protest invited more humiliation and jeering with no one standing up to defend them. Seeking police protection was an invitation to more hazards. Rubina grew up like every other girl without encountering these difficulties.

Her father Shakir Hussain who had a retail hardware business sided with her mother to compel her to take up a job with a book publisher at Nai Sarak. She did the uninspiring job at one fourth of her first offer. Then, one day she decided to take her mother to the Connaught Place coffee shop. They went by the ladies reserved compartment in the Metro that had begun its run from the Central Secretariat to the Delhi University campus. She paid Rs.hundred for two coffee mugs. Her mother would have been aghast at such costs for a coffee cup. But her attention was riveted to the young girls, most of them clad in hot pants and tight tee shirts. Two wore tight jeans. All were happy talking and laughing loudly. A few boys were also with them but all behaved without inhibitions. Seerat had never seen such free movements with obvious happiness. She could not see religious difference in their behaviour. She did not exchange even a word with her daughter. She just observed all that was happening around. Walking from the coffee shop to the Metro station was easy. Rubina pointed out to her the Travel Agency location where she was to work. Rubina maintained silence for the rest of the day allowing her mother to mull over all that she had seen.

Next morning, Seerat came to wake her up with a cup of tea. Caressing her hair, she told Rubina to find out if the offer of job with the travel agency was still valid. Rubina was overjoyed. She ran out of the house to reach the phone at the bakery nearby. She came back thrilled as Hemant Sharma not only responded positively but also enhanced the offer by a thousand rupees more if she would join in a week’s time. Her mother gave her three thousand rupees to get herself a new dress. She was to start work the next day.

In the evening her mother and father jointly made a condition. She would put on a burqa while going from home to the Metro station. She could take it off at the station but again put it on from station to home as she would have to walk back home every evening. She wondered why this condition if she was allowed to accept her new job? Her father explained. Your mother and I have no objection to what you wear at your office. But Jama Masjid area is still very conservative. There is also a possibility of some of them also adopting the extreme view point. For your safety, it is better you hide what you are wearing to serve the needs of your job. We understand that you cannot appear to be a conservative Muslim girl at your workplace. But you cannot flout it in this conservative area. It is for your own safety.

Rubina religiously complied with the condition. She understood what they were saying. The Metro had come as a social development to release thousands of Muslim women from their self imposed imprisonment. They could now move out without suffering any kind of humiliation. The reserved compartment for women provided them safe travel.

From the first decade of this century one can see young Muslim mothers with their kids at the India Gate lawns and playing without fear of any harassment. The Metro was a blessing to them.

The critics of burqa as a condemnable attire and as a forced social impediment do overlook the fact that ghunghat was a necessary social custom for women in the North India for a thousand years before the emergence of Islam. It continues in many places even today.

The saga of Rani Padmavati of Chittorgarh and Jauhar by a thousand Rajput women to escape the aggressors are classic examples. Women are women in every denomination.