Ladies special turns joyride for women in Srinagar

Ladies special turns joyride for women in Srinagar

For 22-year-old Nahid commuting the 18-km distance from her uptown home in Srinagar to Kashmir University through public transport was no less than an ordeal till last year when she came to know about ladies special bus service.

The service was launched by the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti immediately after she took over the reins of power in April 2016. “I had to change two buses daily to reach the university from my home. Most of the times male passengers used to ogle, pass remarks, pinch and nudge in a overcrowded bus and I had no option but to remain silent,” Nahid told DH.

The moment she heard about the launch of the ladies special bus service, there was no end to her joy as travelling in the public transport had become a harrowing experience for her. Recounting one particularly unpleasant experience, she said a middle-aged co-passenger touching her thighs.

“At first, I thought it was because the bus was quite crowded, but then I realised that he was doing it intentionally, I was upset. When I confronted him, instead of moving back, he moved even closer. I pushed him back, he stumbled, but then moved away from me." Every woman travelling in local buses has a story of some abuse to narrate.

“The fear of some male trying to touch or brush against a woman is always there in overcrowded buses. Women face it almost every day, but nobody dares to speak. On one occasion I had to ask the conductor to stop the bus and alight when a man tried to take advantage of the overcrowding and molest me. This man standing behind me pushed inappropriately forcing me to alight from the bus,” says Rahila, a teacher at a private school in Srinagar.

Rahila says she could not reveal this to anybody even in the family. “Revealing the acts of harassment in buses to any one is like rubbing salt to your own wounds and adding to the humiliation you suffer at the hands of frotteurs,” she said and blamed authorities for sleeping over such incidents and trying to sweep them under carpet to hide their failures.

Stigma attached with the issue does not let the girls to report these cases either to their families or to the police. Because of the reluctance on the part of girls to lodge complaints, police records show no molestation cases.

However, the service, launched by State Road Transport Corporation  (SRTC), which operates from the city centre Lal Chowk to select routes in the city has come as a huge relief to girl students and women employees, who have to travel on these routes during peak hours. Currently, the ladies special services fleet consists of five buses that make two round trips per day in Srinagar.

But the service is incurring losses and unless the government helps the cash-starved corporation, they may not be able to sustain it for long. “We have received hundreds of requests, mostly from female students, asking to expand the service to other routes. But as the service is running under loss we couldn't entertain the requests,” said a SRTC official.

Asked why the service was not making profits, he said, “Most of the times the bus will not have even half the capacity as we can't pick male passengers. The transport industry is already running under losses due to frequent strikes, bad roads and increase in taxes. Unless the government supports us to run ladies special, it can't be sustained for long,” he revealed.
    
But women passengers not only want the continuation of the current schedules, but also expansion of the services to all city routes. “When the government can spend crores of rupees on vehicles of ministers, bureaucrats and other VIPs every month, why can't it help the corporation to operate the ladies special bus service," asked a woman passengers.

Some women said the bus service has made their life easy as it's clean, always on time, without any jostling and very safe. Despite increase in the number of women in labour force and enrolment in educational and technical training centres over the last few years, safe means of transportation to facilitate their
mobility neither has increased nor improved. 
 
A traffic police official said they do check overcrowding in buses. “Wherever we find an overcrowded bus, we challan the driver. But we cannot keep track of every bus. There are three lakh buses in Kashmir, so it’s humanly not possible,” he said.

But while the abuse in urban areas is mainly limited to touching, in rural areas, men start hunting for gratification of sexual desires.  Amid these many abuses, helpless women have no options but to mainly travel by buses. “Not all families have access to private transport whereas travelling by autos is quite expensive,” says Arifa, a college student. 

Observers say continued turmoil in the Kashmir Valley has taken toll on “human sensitivities” on such issues.

Dr Asima Hassan, who teaches sociology at a government degree college here, says that the almost three decades of conflict in Kashmir has changed priorities of people. “People hardly care for women and other rights. Our society is in a state of perpetual denial which is the main reason why social evils like these do not become a cause of concern unlike political issues,” she told DH.

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