Commuting in city buses is unsafe for women19th September 2019
There is a need to introduce ‘ladies special’ services at least during peak hours
S. Mala, 26, the breadwinner of her family, finds the daily commute by city buses to her workplace on West Masi Street daunting. “While travelling in crowded buses, I regularly experience verbal and physical harassment. But then, I have no other option,” she says.
College-going and working women in the city, who regularly face harassment while travelling in city buses, feel that operation of more ‘ladies specials’ by Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) will ease the situation and provide respite to them.
Echoing the views of other women commuters, Jeyalakshmi, an event planner, says, “If there are ‘ladies special’ buses, women can at least travel peacefully.”
According to a report titled ‘Harassment faced by women commuters in four major bus stands,’ brought out by the Centre for Women’s Studies of Lady Doak College, 25% of men leer at women by singing obscene songs and 20% pass snide comments.
“When we conducted the survey, it was shocking to find that all respondents complained of having faced sexual harassment,” says Ann Nirmala, Coordinator, Centre for Women’s Studies.
The report, which surveyed 2,880 respondents, including 1,429 women, at Periyar Bus Stand, M.G.R. Bus Stand, Arapalayam Bus Stand, and Tirumangalam Bus Stand, says that around 15% of women faced physical harassment while travelling in city buses.
Though the harassment peaked during peak hours in the evening, it continued throughout the day.
“Since the buses are usually crowded during peak hours, women cannot identify the perpetrators and hence, it reduces the possibility of lodging a complaint,” says Beulah J. M. Rajkumar, adviser, Centre for Women’s Studies.
“Operation of ‘ladies specials’ during peak hours will give some respite from the situation,” she adds.
According to TNSTC officials, currently, there are 10 ‘ladies special’ buses for a few colleges and schools.
However, the number is insufficient, says N. Afzal Sara, a student of Fatima College, where, currently, two ‘ladies special’ buses are in service during peak hours.
“The two buses get crowded within a few minutes. We feel unsafe to wait for a long time at the bus stops as men tend to pass lewd comments on us. Even when the buses come, they tend to be crowded,” she says.
Introducing ‘ladies specials’ connecting the major bus stands in the city and linking places like Goripalayam, Simmakkal and Veli Streets, during peak hours is essential, says G. Aruna, head of LIC working women sub-committee (Madurai zone) of All India Insurance Employees’ Association.
“It is painful to see schoolchildren running to board buses. If there are exclusive buses for women, then the parents will heave a sigh of relief,” she adds. Absence of safe travel arrangement for women discourages many parents from sending them to city colleges from surrounding villages and suburban areas.
E. Eswari, a college student who comes from Alanganallur, says that her parents repeatedly remind her that higher education need not be at the cost of her safety.
C. Arivanandham, Deputy Manager (Commercial), TNSTC, says that operating ‘ladies specials’ will not be economically sustainable.
“The occupancy ratio of buses in the city has dipped to 30%. Most commuters prefer share autorickshaws over buses in general,” he says.
But share autorickshaws are also unsafe, says G. Preetha, a teacher, who travels from Tirunagar. She says that she curls into a ball while travelling in share autorickshaws, as she uses her arms to protect herself.
“Due to the poor frequency of buses, especially during rainy season, we are forced to use share autorickshaws. If there are ‘ladies specials,’ women will prefer them,” says Ms. Preetha.
A survey to find out the demand for ‘ladies specials’ can be conducted across the city and based on the result further action can be taken, says Mr. Arivanandham.
Though deploying such services will help in enhancing the safety of women in public spaces, it is not the final solution, says Bimla Chandrasekar, Director, Ekta Foundation for Women.
“There is a need for a multidimensional approach to address women’s safety issues. There should be awareness among men and women of the existing laws against sexual harassment. We must also encourage women to use public spaces even at odd hours to make them safer for all women,” says Ms. Chandrasekar.