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India: Public Transport, Private Harassment

In correspondents, public harassment, Stories, street harassment | on 08.15.13 | by | Comments ( 0 )

By Pallavi Kamat, Mumbai, India, SSH Correspondent

The most common and recurrent form of street harassment encountered by any woman in my community is when she chooses to take the public transport. In Mumbai, where I live, tens of thousands of women choose to travel by public transport where distances between one’s residence and one’s place of work/study are significant. Though Mumbai is by and large a safe city and women can travel at any time of the hour by the public transport, it is not completely immune to the phenomenon of street harassment.

When I speak of public transport, I refer to transport by the local bus, train, autorickshaw or cab. Let me elaborate each mode separately and in detail.

In Mumbai, the local buses are almost always crowded, especially during peak times. Though the first five seats are reserved for women, it is no guarantee that a woman who boards a bus will not be harassed. Often, due to the crowd, she is subjected to groping. I have experienced this: a man sits next to me on one of the unreserved seats and tries to fondle or grope. Other than remaining silent, I frankly have no other option. The most I do is get up and go find a separate seat or stand.

A survey conducted by We The People Foundation in early 2012 found that 80% of women in Mumbai faced sexual harassment with the maximum cases taking place in crowded areas such as trains and railway platforms.

One huge advantage of the local trains in Mumbai is that they have separate compartments for women. In addition, there are also ladies’ specials trains being run at specific times. Despite this, women continue to face harassment as they board the daily train. This could be in the form of the men’s compartment adjacent to the women’s compartment from which there is catcalling and verbal harassment. Often times, as a train stops at a particular station, the men on the platform pass lewd comments and whistle at women. Harassment also exists in the form of snatching of purses and bags of women who are perched on the entrance of the train as it approaches a station for alighting. The Central Railway has registered 215 cases of sexual harassment in January-2013 and 314 cases in February-2013.

Compared to the buses and the trains, travelling by autorickshaws or cabs seems safer since it is like a semi-private travel. However, both these modes are not completely harassment-free. Many times, when the rickshaw or the cab is stationary at a signal, men on bikes peep inside and pass comments or point fingers and giggle. There have also been instances of bikers snatching gold chains from female commuters in cabs or rickshaws.

Sometimes, the auto/cab driver has tried to molest the woman passenger. To deal with this menace, women-only cabs (such as Viira Cabs, Mumbai Gold Cabs, Priyadarshini Taxi Service, etc.) have been launched in Mumbai and heartily welcomed by women commuters especially when travelling during odd hours of the day or night. Additionally, when a woman hails a cab from the domestic/international airport, a police official notes down her phone number with her destination and the number of the taxi for security reasons.

While women continue to experience varied forms of street harassment, the important thing is not to get dejected or depressed but continue to find ways and means to deal with it. These could be in the form of raising an alarm, filing a complaint or helping out a woman in need. It could also be in the form of working with the local authorities to make public transport safer and enjoyable for women. Women have as much right to public transport as men and there is no reason why any form of harassment should discourage or scar them from using it.

And it is equally critical for men to pitch in as well. After all, a woman being harassed is somebody’s mother, daughter or sister. Both genders need to work together to eliminate the monster of street harassment specifically in public transport.

Pallavi is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a Commerce Graduate from the University of Mumbai, India, with around 12 years of experience working in the corporate sector. Follow her on Twitter, @pallavisms.

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