SRINAGAR: There is a crowd of commuters and a line of buses at the city bus-stand. Conductors shout at the top of their voices, beckoning passengers to a variety of places. In this raucous jostling for attention, a sober, murmur of a hush claims attention. The ‘Ladies Special’ is here.
All eyes turn towards the bus. It neatly aligns itself with the line of other buses. The conductor shouts, ‘Ladies Bus, Ladies Bus.’ Among the men, a few smirks, much laughter, and some commentary ensues. There is briefly a discussion on what the prospects of this novelty are.
Women hesitantly walk towards the bus. Some keep their heads lowered, some walk with a swagger. As soon as the seats in the bus are occupied, the conductor closes the door and the Ladies’ Special leaves.
The women sit comfortably on the seats. Immediately they speak of how uncomfortable they have been all their lives in overcrowded buses. Licking an ice-cream cone, a woman sitting on the backseat pronounces judgement: “This is the only good work done by the government so far.”
As the other passengers nod their heads in agreement, the woman at the backseat tells them about a nasty experience in one of the old buses. “As usual the bus was stuffed with passengers. A man put his hand on my private parts. At first I did not realize what he was doing, but when he started moving his hands, I shouted.”
The woman continues with her story. “I scolded him in front of everyone, but he denied doing anything. No passenger uttered a word in my favour. All of them were indifferent to what was happening. After a few minutes, the man touched me again. I slapped him and pushed him out of the bus.”
After hearing of this incident, many comments, questions, replies, fly to-and-fro. Soon, a complaining circle is formed, where grouses against the government are freely aired.
“Women have always been neglected by society,” says one complainant. “Buses have become easy places of molestation,” says another woman. “The worst part is that you cannot raise your voice from fear of shame. The men begin accusing you of not dressing properly.”
A college student, until now silently listening to the conversation, says to her friend sitting beside her, “They are absolutely right. Once a man put his hand on my thigh and I complained. This event set off a discussion among the men in the bus, who started blaming girls for all the shameful acts happening in society. From natural calamities to the wars that are taking place in Muslim countries, they put the entire blame on women.”
Another girl now says something so funny that everyone laughs their heads off. She says, “When I travel in a bus and pass by a male passenger, they recite a holy verse: “Aa-oozu bilahi mina shaitan ni rajeem”. It makes me feel as if I am the devil.”
Other women passengers begin suggesting remedies for the problems faced by them. “We all should carry a knife and safety pins with us,” one of them says. “Then, nobody will dare touch us.”
A woman shouts from the front seat, “I have done that. A man was trying to touch me and I immediately took out a safety pin from my scarf and pricked him. He didn’t even shout.”
Accolades follow the giggles from every side for this excellent service that carries the name Ladies’ Special. Even as the women passengers were warming themselves to the conversation, the bus reached its destination and the conductor asked everyone to get down. Bidding goodbye to one another, the women shook hands and a wish to meet again in the same bus.