Sexual Harassment on Public Transit

This incident happened today while I, with my family, was returning from the Annual exhibition. My mom insisted on taking the public transport. The roads were crowded and when the bus came, people were rushing inside in a hurry to get a seat. My elder sister got in first and helped my mom to get inside the bus. I was behind her, when I saw a man trying to touch my mom’s breast. I immediately pulled his hands and shouted at him. My sister suddenly turned around and understood what was the commotion about and gave a punch on his arm and started shouting. That man got panicked and rushed towards the back door of the bus and got down immediately.

Sexual harassment on public transports is a global problem, either verbal or physical. Every time a woman goes out, she has these questions running in her mind:

Should I take a public transport or book a cab?

How much I can save if I take a public transport?

How safe is public transport?

This is a topic, which women do not discuss openly. Either we keep it to ourselves or just share it with our fellow female friends. Every women, with whom I have ever discussed this topic, each one have at least one such incident when they had faced harassment, be it a verbal abuse, or sexual comment or physical assault.

Ask a woman, what the priority is when it comes to public transport. And the answer will be “safety”. Sexual harassment on public transport is an everyday occurrence and has become an unavoidable part of our daily commute. And most of the time either it is ignored or is quietly endured. It is simply accepted that women cannot expect to feel safe on public places.

To cope up with this, women often restrict their movements at certain times to certain places; choose a pricier but safer alternative or choose to opt for public transit despite the risk.

But certain situations are unavoidable.

Once I had to travel to Hyderabad from Bangalore in a sort notice. I was not able to get any front seats in the bus and got the last but one seat. The window seat was already booked by another lady. Till midnight everything was normal, lights were off and all passengers were sleeping including me. After sometime, I got up startled. I was wearing a half sleeve t-shirt. I felt some person’s fingers inside my sleeves. I thought I just imagined it and kept quiet.  After some time again I felt the same. Then I observed, the guy sitting behind me in trying to put his hands inside my sleeves. I grabbed his fingers, turned back and shouted on him. The passengers on the other seats too got up. All were simply looking at what’s going on. But none of them said anything. I finally got up from my seat. Went to the bus driver and complained. The bus driver stopped the bus at the road side. Came with me to my seat and asked who that person is? I pointed to the man seating behind me. The drive next spoke to that person and said, “Sir, learn to respect ladies and do not do such shameless things in the bus. If I hear another complaint against you, the bus will stop at police station the next morning.”

I felt relieved and that person behaved himself for the rest of the journey. The next morning, the lady sitting next to me said , “You are really daring enough to shout at him and complain on him. If I was at your place, I would had preferred to ignore it and kept quiet.”

My question is “Why?” Why would you not say anything? Why would you ignore and keep quiet? Why would you not publicly call him out?  Do not give the absurd notion to any person that he has the right to touch you and pass it off as an accident. Do not let him just walk away. Do not encourage them to touch, say, or do as they please to women they encounter.

Once one of my friends said to me, “It’s better not to react. That’s what they want.”  But if nobody says anything, then they will keep harassing women irrespective of age. And that’s not OK. So, if you ever find yourself in a similar circumstance, do what is right and what is required: Speak up. Because, if you don’t stand for yourself, no one else would.

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