On a foggy evening, just as the sun went down, I reached a budget hotel in Jaipur. The receptionist, a man with black thick-rimmed glasses, looked over my shoulder expecting to see more people. Not finding anyone he faced me. I dropped my heavy suitcase on the floor and announced that I had a booking for three nights at the hotel.
Punching the keyboard hard he asked, “single room, ma’am?” One would wonder why he was asking such a question because ‘single room’ was not an option on their website while booking. But, in economy hotel parlance, ‘single room’ means two things. It reconfirms that the woman is travelling by herself and reminds her that she cannot have company at night, specially male company.
“Yes,” I sighed.
I have answered this question in dozens of hotels in small towns across the country. From Hrishikesh to Rajamundry and Rajkot to Ranchi, they are all the same. I knew the drill. The receptionist will mansplain basic instructions — breakfast 7 am onwards, it is a no smoking room, TV has two remotes, right knob for hot water and no guests in the room. I enter the room, lock the door and think to myself… What if he gave similar instructions to an unaccompanied male guest? I did the same at Green Land Hotel.
Five years ago, I began travelling alone – both for work and for pleasure. From being a very self-conscious traveller, I gradually loosened up. My first solo trip was across the UK on a shoe-string budget, exposing me to lesser privileged communities in the country. However, travelling alone within India is a distinctive experience. Walking up to small make-shift tea shops to buy tea, eating breakfast at road-side dhabas alone and walking long distances in villages can be unnerving initially. But now, my confidence unnerves people around me.
Ever wondered why lone women travellers are rare to find? I landed the answer almost as soon as I began to shed my apprehension about lone travel. Travelling alone means taking decisions every second. It means taking command of your life, safety and pleasure. Where should you eat? Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What do you feel like doing today? These are questions that several women do not get to answer in our societies. Claiming the agency to answer these questions instills empowerment, which scares many men.
So, when a recent photo about a Hyderabad hotel declining rooms to single women travellers went viral, it didn’t take effort to see why.
— Raksha Kumar (@Raksha_Kumar) September 24, 2016
A lone woman traveler makes friends with herself. She is comfortable smiling to herself in public, she can doze off under a tree in a park on a sunny day and can compliment men on their looks in crowded markets. These are signs of a woman feeling secure and complete on her own. She declines validation of her courage or existence from others. Can insecure men and misogynists risk this? Isn’t it easier to make lone travel difficult for women? Try declining hotel rooms for them, for starters.
One of the top fears of such sexist men is women’s absolute command over their sexuality. Consider a situation where a woman hosts different male guests everyday in her hotel room. It doesn’t take a second for many to brand her a whore. While some would want to ‘rescue’ her, others would denounce such a practice. Ever considered the fact that she preferred different sexual partners? That she didn’t seek money in exchange for sex? That she merely had men and had no sexual relations?
However, if a man hosted different women in his hotel room, what reaction would it draw? At worst, he would be celebrated as a ‘cool dude’, and at best, others would be indifferent to it.
When Bikanerwala Boutique Hotel, Hyderabad mentions that they will not rent rooms to single women, I pity them for not seeing the changing society. Women are fighting hard to claim their individual identity and they will win.
Views expressed in this article are personal. Raksha Kumar is a multimedia journalist and traveller; she tweets @Raksha_Kumar
Feature image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, © Copyright Norman Ekin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence