Anyone who is a regular or an occasional user of the Delhi Metro will testify to the persisting space issues, or rather the lack of it on the train. More often than not, passengers like us must dodge and transverse a multitude of fellow Delhiites to even get some leg space on the Metro. In fact, the situation especially during rush hours is so bad that on a good day, we do not get our faces shoved into someone else’s armpit. Space, let alone seats are a precious commodity on the Delhi Metro and no amount of air-conditioning can do justice to the discomfort caused. It is therefore quite surprising that an issue like manspreading is really being raised here.
Manspreading, simply stated refers to the inelegant posture where a man sits with his legs spread wide into a V-shape, thereby occupying adjacent seats which may have been occupied by other passengers.
It was a couple of months ago that the issue of manspreading actually got some recognition when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which manages the NYC Metro began a campaign urging male passengers to be more courteous to their fellow commuters. However, it was only in the month of May that manspreading became a misdemeanor under State law, an offence which has already led to quite a few arrests in NYC.
Now why is anyone talking about manspreading, a term based on the pre-existence of sitting space in India, where personal space is a rare luxury in public transport? That is the same question in my mind and yet there it is, a petition on Change.org demanding that manspreading be made a criminal offense under the list of Delhi Metro penalties.
All of us have been inherently ingrained with the old-desi attitude which says, ‘Thoda adjust toh karlo.’ Whether the space is actual or imagined, it is this can-do attitude that creates space out of almost nothing; whether it is by tucking in our bellies or by cushioning our legs together, if Delhi Metro were a toy, it would be Slinky from Toy Story. As a result, a seat often meant for one is occupied by two or three or four, plus their bags, and purse and kids. In fact, if the lifeboats on Titanic had Indians on them, they would have had lifeboats to spare.
Now, maybe it does make sense. After all once in a while, we do run into guys snoring noisily, taking two or more seats with their legs spread wide. But hey, if you’re Indian enough, I’m sure most of us know just how to handle such people. Manspreading is a difficult position to take in, especially if all you long for is an empty seat after a hard day at work. But as of now, it doesn’t really constitute a problem on par with the many others that affect the Metro services.
Another point that bothers me is the very terminology of this posture. ‘Man’spreading. Is it just me or does that sound exclusively sexist against men? Don’t get me wrong. I totally agree with the notion that men are in no way entitled to more space on the Metro than women. But, if the very purpose of manspreading is to create more space on public transportation then, terming it so is counter-productive in the long run. Anyways, surely we all know that men alone are not known to take up more space than is required. The discussion therefore, if there is any, must be on creating space, and not perpetuate gender stereotypes.
Delhi Metro has daily passenger traffic of over 25 lakh citizens across all its services in Delhi NCR. And, I’m pretty sure that most of them will attest to the fact that seating on the Metro is a paucity caused by traffic, and not by sitting postures. We must instead focus on the real issues that plague the Delhi Metro like women safety, congestion, accessibility and puking and farting in public. Oh, and add a few coaches to the trains of the Delhi Metro too. After all, kitna adjust kar le? I would have suggested as Ross Geller once did that passengers take a chair along their journeys but, of course there won’t be any space for those chairs either.