Some time back, I was travelling in a female-only bus from Srinagar's Residency Road to Jehangir Chowk. I recount the experience as the most cherished memory in the recent times. The moment I hopped in to take a seat, I was impressed by the maintenance of the bus. It was neat and tidy with women seated comfortably. Both elites and middle class seemed to have boarded the bus.
I didn't mind being a straphanger while holding the handle peacefully to balance myself. For the first time, I desperately felt the need of women-only transport in the city. Suddenly, my memory took me to past – when my friend faced a lot of humiliation and embarrassment while travelling by a passenger bus during peak hours. As soon as she grabbed the seat, a muscular man came and stood beside her and began teasing her. Initially, the young and innocent lady couldn't muster courage to say anything but her eyes could narrate the whole tale of her helplessness. At last, the beast tore the patience of the young lady like a volcano erupting with huge flames. The girl screamed for help; however, the mute and indifferent audience callously ignored it, probably considering it against the modesty of a woman.
Now Back to present. Though it gave me immense satisfaction in the women-only bus, but I want to bring home the level of struggle the women endure in catching the bus, the efforts they put in hopping in and the fortune they carry to grab a seat are not less than any jihad. Luck does not always favour us in grabbing an empty seat. So, the only option is to bear the brunt – to get ready to face insults and humiliation. The piercing eyes of men would watch us so closely that they are likely to do scan our bodies. Rare are the men who will offer you seat, after all, people are not very generous.
Then there are seats, carved in bold letters 'RESERVED FOR WOMEN AND HANDICAPPED' near the front door next to driver's seat. However, the seats are boldly occupied by stout "gentlemen". The common problem in our city is the inadequate capacity of bus services which results in overcrowding. One has to run to catch a bus in a huge crowd of people. But no "gentleman" would assist or offer help to a lady. He would rather push her aside to grab the seat first.
The shoving and thrashing always reminds me of the doomsday when nobody will be anybody's. Every woman has faced bad experience while travelling by passenger bus, but these small incidents don't get reported because it's considered an everyday affair for her. Not all women can afford to have her private vehicle. Certain things can't be changed, but one thing surely can be done – to deploy special bus services for women particularly at such spots where moderate traffic runs. These buses should frequently ply round the clock. All the while, I reached my destination without realising it. I thanked the courteous conductor and driver for making my entire journey comfortable yet adventurous for giving the feeling of travelling in a foreign country. Thanks to the transport department for envisioning one of the many dreams of women.
(The author is Associate editor at INS News portal)