Living in a new city can be an intimidating experience for anyone, but for single women, the conditions can be much harsher. Having to find safe brokers, a nice house, being able to live in peace without judgmental neighbours and nosy landlords are all necessities when it comes to house-hunting for women. Sadly, the reality is that most of the women have horror stories related to this or have to end up compromising on one aspect or the other.
Mumbai-based director, Shikha Makan’s documentary Bachelor Girls has been doing the rounds on social media. It features single women in Mumbai, including actress Kalki Koechlin, speaking about the horrific incidents they have faced while trying to settle down in the city. She says about her inspiration — “I moved to Mumbai from Delhi, to a house with my sister and the security guards would give us strange looks. Once I returned home late and asked a male colleague to drop me till my building because the guards made me feel uncomfortable.
The chairman of the society came down to speak to me right that minute and spoke to me very aggressively and said he’d finally ‘caught me red-handed’! Even after this, I kept hearing many stories from friends, so I decided to use my voice against this issue.”
She goes on to talk about the change she hopes the movie will bring, “I’ve heard the same stories from all over the country and would like to take the film to different cities. I want to initiate dialogue about this issue, and bring changes to policies. The tone of the movie hopes to generate empathy and make people question why they have such prejudices. I think people’s idea of women empowerment is very skewed in the sense that everyone wants to educate their daughters but doesn’t want to see them self-reliant, living alone.”
This story isn’t just restricted to Mumbai, it occurs in almost every city in the country. In Chennai, a large number of women still face problems when trying to find a place to stay. For single parent Ruby Ann who is an RJ in the city, the problem hasn’t just been landlords but brokers too. “I’ve been hit on by brokers and landlords who find out I’m single, telling me that their parents/spouses have a problem with letting the house to a sole woman but that they’d like to remain friends nevertheless.” She goes on to say, “I like to go out, wear what I like, and I’ve gotten co-workers over sometimes — for some reason, this combination doesn’t sit well with neighbours and they think I’m sleeping around. Thankfully, now I have a great landlord who stands up for me when needed.”
Radhika VR, a tax consultant in the city, testifies to the same. “When a single woman lives alone, the society automatically believes that they are entitled to know about her whereabouts, the gender of her guests, her work schedule and the like. If you end up coming home late, the security complains to the association saying you disturb the colony and the neighbours have a problem if you bring men home, which includes my 14-year-old brother. Why doesn’t the society question a family who their guests are or ask single men why they work late?” She adds that the only way this constricted view can change is when mentalities evolve, women stand with other women and neighbours mind their own business.
Student Tracy Chatelier has also had a fair share of her own problems for the past six years of living in Chennai and moving houses. “Houseowners already have their strange set of rules, including what kind of food is allowed inside the house, if pets are allowed etc. With women, not getting guy friends over is another restriction because people believe if women and men are in a house together, something fishy is going on. Even religion has been a problem, even though I’m not religious. A landlord asked me if I would recite prayers because he didn’t want Christian prayers inside his house. It was absurd. It’s easier for single men to find houses, than women.” For Tracy, the only solution she sees is the new generation of people taking over. “I think our generation is far more tolerant and will treat others better in this case. The old-fashioned thinkers who follow the norm, won’t be having an epiphany anytime soon, so we’ll just have to wait,” she concludes.