Travelling by bus can be hazardous as this video depicts. Watch this video
Two standees, a boy and a girl, in a not-so-crowded bus. The bus brakes suddenly. Boy lurches against Girl, once. The second time it happens, Girl slaps Boy. The angsty Boy now moves away (makes you wonder why he couldn’t have kept his distance from the beginning). The bus brakes yet again. This time Girl loses her balance and lurches against Boy. Boy slaps Girl.
This video opens up a hornet’s nest of attitudes and mindsets which is evident in the mostly misogynous comments posted to this video.
Are these comments really representative of a majority mindset? Let’s zoom in, inside a BEST bus (of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking) in Mumbai during peak hours. These buses are a life-line in a city where travelling for work, study, and even leisure, is a way of life for many. Too many travellers and too few vehicles (Forty-eight lakh passengers are ferried by a fleet of 4,680 buses everyday). Personal space? Sorry, don’t expect to have much of that in a crowded BEST bus (which is not the ‘best’ experience ever unless you got in at the starting point and grabbed a seat).
And, if you are a woman, expect to be subject to unwelcome lower back presses and rubs from the male passenger standing behind you in that jam-packed bus. If you are in the aisle seat, expect an exposure to the unwarranted attentions of men who want to stand perpendicular to you and uncomfortably close. At first, you give the benefit of doubt to the perpetrator (after all, as our Justice system says, all are innocent till proven guilty) but when the intrusion persists, you realise the malicious intent and it’s then time for you to take action.
What do you do?
19-year-old Radhika, student, hates the harassment and wishes she did not have to travel by bus (other means of transport are heavy on the pocket) In this case, she feels she has no other option but to move away and find another spot in the already overfull bus.
But 26-year-old Sujata, marketing executive, is not one to take a silent stance on this physical intrusion. “It has now become an art,” she says, “to judge whether that press is an innocent outcome of the sudden braking of the bus or a gross transgression. It might not be that easy to judge the situation. When you suspect a trespass, you turn around to look at the supposed culprit and sure enough that creep is either gazing away into the distance, unconcerned and innocent or looks like a decent, homely fellow who wouldn’t even dream of committing such a heinous act. You are at first confused but when you turn your back, the harassment resumes. “
And once convinced of the latter, she RAISES HER VOICE. The first request is polite and soft-spoken. If it remains unheard and un-responded to, she is loud in her demand for the man to move away. Now, with the other passengers’ accusing eyes on him, the shame-faced perpetrator mutters under his breath but nonetheless, slinks away, to another part of the bus or in extreme cases, alights. Sujata gets the result without raising a hand. No scope for a tit for tat situation here.
Sadly, since most women choose to remain silent, such violations continue unabated. Only when each and every woman finds her voice can there be hope of having a safe space to travel in. Raising one’s voice makes one vulnerable to the risk of retaliation. Take that risk. Speak up. Stop believing that such harassment is an inevitable part of your life. Encourage and support other women to speak up. And once that happens, hopefully, the video shown above will just be an anachronism.
(Sexual harassment in public transport might not be just restricted to that faced by women from men. The bottom-line, though, is that any harassment and its perpetrator must be called out and taken to task immediately to prevent it escalating any further).
Have you faced such situations while travelling? How did you tackle them?
(Sonia Rao has pledged to make 2013 the year to ‘Speak Up’ especially against any injustices she sees, through direct intervention and/or through her writings, depending on the situation. She also blogs at http://soniaraowrites.wordpress.com/ ).