I WAS ACCOMPANYING A WOMAN FRIEND WHO WAS DRIVING a yellow Zen. Going down Feroze Shah Road, she automatically to joined the swirl of traffic at Mandi House. All of a sudden seemingly out of nowhere, popped a tall thin policeman and stopped her midstream. The peremptory way he thrust his palm before her without any reason was nothing but authority being exercised for tir the sake of authority. Traffic continued to move to the left and right of us. The cop either did not like the yellow Zen, or my friend’s short hair or something else. I rolled down the window and asked him why he had stopped us when everybody else was moving. He snapped brusquely “chup raho” which of course sent blood gushing to my head.
Traffic police delight in stopping women drivers. My mother drove a shining black Italian Fiat in 1954 when Delhi’s streets were virtually free of traffic. Sitting next to her as a child I recall so many instances when every car and cyclist would be allowed to cross but the constable would raise his hand suddenly and stop my mother. Once I learnt to drive, I too discovered how that the ‘stop’ sign was invariably applied when it was my turn. Several women friends have confirmed my belief that traffic constables derive a special thrill from lording it over women drivers.
Women who are independent and show external signs of being in authority annoy a certain class of men. When a woman tells a visitor what is sought by him is not possible, the reaction is often intemperate and offensive. (Shades of Jessica?) We all hear men sitting behind office desks using expressions like, ‘chadd de’, ‘bakwaas band karo’ and ‘bhago idhar se’, all derogatory and calculated to insult and annoy. But somehow people accept this as a part of being officer-like. Were a woman to talk like that, all hell would be let loose.
Years ago when I had to give evidence before a high and mighty, I looked him straight in the eye and spoke, My well wishing junior colleague who watched from the side whispered to me, “Ma’am don’t look at his face when you speak. It irritates him if you look him in the eye.”
When plumbers, electricians, masons and their ilk turn up to handle a household problem, if the man of the house happens to be around and does the talking, usually the work is done, payment accepted and the workman disappears. If it happens to be a woman who explains the problem, at first the workman gives her a spiel about how the fault lies elsewhere. Also how he needs more tools, more help and more implements that would cost that much more. The woman has two choices- accept his terms or start arguing. For expediency the woman usually gives in. The workman condescendingly tells her to take down his cell number in case of future need and counts his currency notes with ill-concealed glee.
Moral of the story — a woman in authority is a source of irritation to a certain class of men and if they can do something to curb her independence, they will try — even if it is by stopping her car.