Srinagar: Last week, a married couple travelling with their child had to get down from a mini-bus on the Jehangir Chowk-Bemina route because the driver objected to the husband sitting on a seat reserved for women.
The driver halted the bus and told the man to vacate the seat. It led to a verbal duel between both parties, which ended only when the couple escaped the “embarrassing” situation by descending from the bus.
Such scenes have become routine on buses plying in the city, raising questions both about the attitude of passengers as well as the government’s enforcing of rules.
The transport department, under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, had issued an order in 2012 to reserve eight seats for women and physically disabled people in public mini-bus transport. But the chief minister’s grievance cell led by Tassaduq Mufti had asked the transport department to implement the reservation of seats for women in public transport in letter and spirit, to prevent any violation of the order and harassment under cover of the breach. He also asked for widely publicising the traffic department’s toll-free numbers and regular check by traffic police and other officials to check and control the order’s violation.
Apart from this, the Mehbooba Mufti government had also introduced an all-women bus service in both capitals of the state.
Women commuters, however, say the problem has not been solved because of lack of awareness among passengers as well as lack of action taken against them.
Daily commuter Asma Parveen blamed the traffic police for not implementing the law. “We continue to stand in buses and tend to become soft targets,” she said.
A Bemina school student, Bisma Khan, said she endured a horrific travel experience on buses on the Parraypora-Jehangir Chowk route. “I used to get molested and teased in the bus every single evening, as the so-called reserved seats for women were all occupied by men,” she said. She is now staying as a paying guest at Parraypora to avoid being “molested” on buses.
When asked why the law is not being followed by bus drivers, All Kashmir Mini Bus Federation (AKMBF) chairman Sheikh Mohammad Yousuf said that “women should themselves ask for their right”.
“They should seek this right which they have been given. It is our request to passengers to cooperate with us to ensure the success of this law,” he said.
Sheikh suggested that instead of the drivers, the passengers occupying the reserved seats should be fined, which would act as a deterrent against occupying the seats. According to him, the AKMBF has circulated pamphlets and posters among drivers and conductors to raise their awareness.
Superintendent of Police (Traffic City) Tahir Saleem Khan said the traffic police have erected hoardings and banners at several places in the city to spread awareness.
“We have filed 96 challans and recovered fines of Rs 17,800 from erring drivers in 13 days since December 6,” Khan told Kashmir Reader. “We have also circulated about 300 awareness stickers in buses and have decided to broadcast awareness programmes through the radio,” he added.
Khan said the traffic department will hold road shows in the city in collaboration with local music bands to create awareness.
Kashmir’s Regional Transport Officer Farooq Ahmad Rather said that the issue of reserved seats is more social than legal. “Enforcement means are insufficient. We are taking measures and using broadcast media like radio to spread the message on the issue,” he said.