By Ila Ananya
“We feel, as national carriers, it is our responsibility to enhance comfort level to female passengers,” Meenakshi Malik, general manager of Air India’s revenue management, has said. This sounds nice enough, but it turns out that enhancing comfort — referring to not being sexually harassed by male co-passengers — means making its third row in the economy section only for women.
Two days from now, women travelling alone will be given the option of reserving one of these six seats. They won’t be available to women traveling with families or women travelling in groups. This decision has been taken after reports of sexual harassment on the flights — in December last year, a man switched from business class to economy during a Mumbai-Newark flight, and then groped the woman sitting next to him when she fell asleep. Soon after this incident, there were reports of an Air India flight attendant who was molested by a passenger on a Muscat-Delhi flight.
Both these incidents prompted the airline to decide to carry plastic handcuffs onboard domestic flights in case men misbehaved. The reservation of a row for women passengers was announced soon after — a completely bizarre way to make women feel safer. It’s only another way of simply and conveniently making women more responsible for the prevention of sexual harassment. It’s like all the safety apps and like Delhi metro’s recent ridiculous announcement that women should be allowed to carry small knives in the Metro.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising though: Air India has in the past been in the news for announcing all kinds of regulations for women. In 2015 that it was grounding 125 overweight cabin crew members, stating that it was important to maintain a level of fitness for safety reasons. In 2004, they’d made announcements that flight attendants couldn’t have scars or acne on their faces, followed by deciding to fire 9 women flight attendants for being “overweight” in 2009, this time claiming that they could “impair agility”.
Are these measures really going to make women feel and be safer? Of course, we don’t see Air India trying to start any other kinds of conversations — like the more important one about changing men’s attitudes. All Air India’s going to achieve is making it very marginally more difficult for entitled men to think they can grope women.