“Bus la pona enna aayiduva?’ (What will happen if you go by bus) asked an XYZ when I declared I want to hire a car for the two weeks I was going to be at home in India a couple of years ago. I was away for three years, finished grad school and got my first job and went back home to visit my parents. I got reminded of things when I was asked this question:
I clearly remember that moment, I was looking out the window standing inside a crowded bus when I felt something very close, I turned and looked at a vermin of a man who was about to touch my breast in a public bus. I screamed and he backed away.
Everyone were looking at him but did nothing. He shrugged and skunk away, deeper into the crowded bus. I was 15, travelling alone in the crowded bus. The lady next to me demanded that the man be caught and handed over at the next police station. The conductor of the bus refused saying “Adhaan onnum nadakaliye” meaning ‘Nothing had happened so don’t make a big deal’. I went home all embarrassed and enraged, told my parents and they seemed to be more relieved about the fact that the bus did not stop at the police station. “They would have asked you more uncomfortable questions, it is better to ignore such things” told my dad.
And also I understood these experiences at 15 was just a start for many more years of such incidents. Just that as you grow up, you don’t scream, you learn to squirm and move away. You learn to use your elbows with an effort to keep them at bay. I used to carry a small pair of scissors and some pepper powder from then on in my bag and remember having a huge fight at home when my parents found out “You think you will have time to take all that out if you are abused ?” asked my dad, but the 15 year old me did not know a better option.
Women travelling in such buses had men pressing their hardness against their back if they were standing and their shoulder if they were sitting and said it was the crowded bus that is making them do it. You will have men waiting to pinch your butt as you get off the bus (so that you can’t take a look at who it was). You will have men trying to grope you every time the driver brakes and blame it on the sudden movement. What frustrated more was when it was considered ‘normal’. If you tried telling an “adult” their first reaction would be its okay, there are bastards in buses, you learn to ignore them. Do not get into trouble by making a scene.
Being a person from the ‘middle class’ in an over populated city, I was not just double, but quadruple deprived in this case. Because even the city’s effort to introduce new luxury buses ( to help ease the crowd by having higher priced tickets) helped only those who could afford it. I ( and many others probably) used to sometimes buy a luxury bus ticket for 3/4 of the way and walk the rest of the distance with the satisfaction that we escaped the ‘crowded bus’ today. Just the thought would give me strength to walk home and ofcourse helped me maintain a zero-size figure as well 😀
I experienced this till a few days before I left the country. So much so that my ambition at one point I would say was to never get into a public bus in India again. I had not thought so deeply until I went back home and when people were surprised I wanted to be ‘luxurious’ or that I had forgotten how I grew up. Infact I remembered only too clearly about it. So my decision to hire a car during my stay was a reflex more than anything. It was not to be luxurious but to protect myself . Protect myself because I deserved it.
I know I am not alone. I know many like me who get the jitters and nightmares when they think about their public travel experience day in and day out. Who used to go to any extent to avoid such experiences. Who worked hard simply to change their lifestyle. Not seeking luxury but better means of living. So next time anybody raise their eyebrows because I refuse to go in an icky public transport or mock about me being an NRI. I have absolutely nothing to say to you. Whatever your opinion of me is, so be it.
I used to (still do) feel bad for girls whose brothers were over-protective and always picked and dropped them off even by foot. Or fathers who had ‘n’ number of restrictions upon their daughters. But deep down I know they want to protect their daughters and sisters. Because we don’t have all the power or strength to fight back. Because ‘having restrictions’ was better than giving freedom and fearing for their safety.
You would hope that it is going to be better some day. But everytime I see an article about rape and killing of women it only goes downhill. It makes me wonder time and again , what if something so horrible had happened to me or my friends who have experienced assault in different forms? I want to say we should speak up and fight back, be bold and brave etc etc. But that’s not fair. Why should we fight back? I might fight back today for myself but what tomorrow or the day after? What about millions who don’t want to keep fighting? Who just want to live peacefully? Who want to travel safe without fear? or would you want everyone to move away such as myself to protect themselves? That isn’t practical as well. Next comes the question of who is responsible for it, which I am not going to delve into.
The above is just one example but every girl I am sure would have her own story. So just a humble appeal to anyone reading this to do their bit in whatever way you can to bring about a change. A change that that wouldn’t want anyone male or female to fear travel in their own city. If you are here, I assume you got through this long post. Thank you for stopping by and reading it.
Your thoughts are always appreciated!
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