Even if they wish to, some restaurants in the city don't allow women to sit in the general section.

Meal time misogyny Why do women in Hyd have to sit in the family sectionImage for representation
news Blog Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 18:58

On Thursday night, when I was too lazy to cook at home, my friend and I decided to eat biryani in a restaurant. We went to Bahar Biryani Café to satisfy our craving for this ever popular dish.

Since both of us had a cold, we chose seats away from the fan as we didn't fancy sneezing all through our meal. But immediately, a waiter told us to sit in the "family section". 

I peeped in and discovered that the family section was air-conditioned. “Bhaiya, we don’t want to sit inside the AC room, we will sit here,” I said. But the waiter wouldn't relent. He insisted that we sit in the family section, even offering to switch off the AC. 

I looked around for a ‘no women allowed board’ in the general section and couldn’t find one. As we were hungry and in no mood to argue, we went inside the freezing AC room for dinner.

Though the biryani was excellent, my mind wouldn't stop wondering why I was not allowed to sit in the general section.

Later, out of curiosity, I asked the owner of the restaurant, why they have such rules in place. 

The answer was surprising. He said, “Usually women don’t feel comfortable sitting surrounded by men so we insist that they sit in the family section for their own safety and comfort.”

I was stunned to hear this. I've always thought of myself as a woman who's capable of taking care of herself and I would have been at ease having my meal surrounded by men. Why was this decision made on my behalf, without consulting me? 

Even after I expressed my opinion, stating clearly that I did not have a problem with sitting in the general section, I was not allowed to do so. 

Their benevolent concern for my safety only struck me as discrimination. When I discussed the issue with my friends, all of them had similar stories to share.

One of them, Ankita Mishra, told me about the time she went for a quick dinner at Bawarchi restaurant in Vanasthalipuram after a long day at work. However, she was denied service when she insisted on sitting in the general section at the restaurant.

The same restaurant denied service to me a few months ago when I went for lunch. The reason? They don't allow women to sit in the general section.

When I asked the manager of Bawarchi restaurant for this rule, his reply was strange: “We respect women, that is the reason why we insist that they sit in the family section.  Also we don't want them to feel uncomfortable since this place is reserved for men.”

Not all of my friends see this as a problem but they do feel that they're restricted from exercising their choice. 

Madhuri Rao, one of my friends who is a foodie, has explored most restaurants in Hyderabad and doesn’t mind sitting in the family section, especially if the restaurant also has a bar. 

Even though Madhuri is comfortable sitting in the general section, she has made her peace with this rule. 

Under the garb of women's safety and "chivalry", these restaurants seem incapable of understanding that a woman is an adult who can make a choice and that they have no business to restrict her. 

I've been living in Hyderabad for the past five months and I feel I'm capable enough to decide what my comfort zone is. When I'm clear about this, whose comfort are the restaurants worried about? 

 

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