I’m a solo traveller and have travelled across the length and breath of the country. I have had both good and bad experiences while travelling (mostly good), but have never been denied entry at any monument/sight-seeing place or been demanded to get my bag checked for loitering at a public space. Below, I share my experience of solo travelling in Hyderabad and loitering alone as a single woman in the old city area of Charminar and Osmania Hospital.
On 03.02.16 at around 5.15 PM, I went to the Charminar to climb up and get the beautiful view of the city in the backdrop of the setting sun. When I bought a ticket from the counter, I was stopped and denied entry. The reason stated was that since I was alone, single women cannot go up to the Charminar. I could only go up if I agreed to be accompanied by a security guard which I refused. Then I went to the ticket counter and demanded for an explanation for this highly sexist discrimination. I was told that single women are not allowed to go up alone because in the past a woman has committed suicide and this is their solution to prevent more suicides. When asked if the same rule applies for men, they out-rightly denied. I was then asked if I’m a local from Hyderabad. When I told them I’m not, they allowed me to go up but not before I had to shout and create a scene. Even then, a security guard kept an eye on me and shadowed me while I roamed around the balcony of Charminar and took pictures.
Later, I walked from Charminar to Osmania Hospital and loitered around the empty area outside the hospital which I’m assuming was the parking area. Within two minutes of my peacefully sitting there, two male cops came and asked my business. They played good cop and bad cop with me and demanded to check my bag, while the good cop told me I shouldn’t loiter around here and it’s for my own good. They reasoned this out with ‘illegal activities’ happening and men ‘teasing’ women. All this while, they didn’t bother to whisk off a group of men who were also loitering and sitting a few meters away from me and who are the ‘supposed’ trouble-makers, but came right for me. I had to unfortunately vacate the area, but not before I demanded them to whisk off the men too.
I have written a formal email complaint to the Archaeological Survey of India, Hyderabad (ASI) and Telangana Tourism Department. I also filed the complaint with ASI, Hyderabad via phone. The woman who received my complaint apologized for the incident and made clear that ASI has implemented no such rules. She said, “I understand this is a discriminatory practice and we apologize for the inconvenience caused, however, the guards took such measures to prevent further suicides.”
What we learn from these two incidents is women can’t go to temples, mosques, monuments, can’t loiter peacefully, but men can rape, hit, create nuisance, harass, molest, etc and get away with it. Single women loitering, doing their business, claiming public space is a threat to patriarchy.
The purpose of this post is not to penalise one guard, the man behind the ticket counter or the two cops, but to inspect the system and the power hierarchies which discriminate against women. Proper gender-sensitization trainings should be given to the staff; this is not an isolated experience and can and does limit women’s mobility and their right to visit the country’s monuments and loiter at public spaces as they like.
Update on 05.02.16: Since the incident occurred, it has been covered by various media outlets. Below are the press coverage:
Lone Woman Stopped from Climbing Charminar, New Indian Express, 05 February 2016
Tourist peeved at refusal to let her climb Charminar alone, Times Of India, 05 February 2016
No entry for single women in Charminar?, Deccan Chronicle, 05 February 2016
Featured Image Credit: Japleen Pasricha