Harassment in Public Transport: Lifting the Veil

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By Huzaif Khanpori

The lack of personal security, or the inability to use public transport without the fear of being victimized there, has substantially decreased thereby the use of public transit. Every now and then, we see reports in dailies about sexual harassment in buses and so on , but, unfortunately, not a single case is being taken cognizance of.
It is worth noting that the gruesome rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey (Nirbhaya) in the capital city of Delhi in India was also done in a public bus. So, should safety issues simply keep women and girls indoors—or does their vulnerability in public spaces highlight a desperate need for gender considerations in designing and planning public transport?
The Supreme Court of India, in 2012, laid down stringent procedures to curb and punish harassment of women in buses and so on. It passed an order which stated that, in the event of harassment in a bus, the driver must immediately drive the vehicle to the nearest police station, and if he fails to do so, authorities must cancel his permit to ply.
The prime reason of this issue in contention is overcrowding. Every passenger vehicle is commonly found overcrowded. According to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, any Matador /Mini Bus, if found plying with passengers (in excess of the capacity mentioned in the Registration Certificate), can be challaned under section 39/192 and 66/192 before the court. This is where traffic police department of the state needs to be robust. Any passenger bus/matador found in violation of this section should be dealt with stringently.
In April 2016, the CM of Jammu & Kashmir started the maiden ladies special bus service for female folk, which was much applauded by everyone, but, only 5 such buses ply in the city. The CM, at that time, had assured to expand the service to other towns of the state, but, no development has been seen on the ground regarding this. The number of these buses needs to be increased as it becomes really easy and comforting for female passengers to ride such buses as there is no scope of getting harassed. But, women-only carriages are surely not the ideal solution. The traveling population is very huge. The behavior of perpetrators should be tackled, rather than the freedom of victims curtailed.
Although the first eight seats in the buses are reserved for women and handicapped, but all these are occupied by men who never stand and offer these to females. Some years back, the High Court of the state had passed some drastic measures to streamline the traffic flow in Kashmir; it would have been nice, if HC would have directed the authorities to enforce the law for reservation of seats for females in the buses.
There is an exigent need to consult and to involve women in decision-making processes. Refusing to do so will only produce transport networks that are unsafe, less reliable and potentially costlier. Victims should be encouraged to feel able to report harassment and assault on transport networks. Increased reporting would identify hotspots where targeted patrols could be employed to tackle the problem. Most important of all, decisive action must be taken against perpetrators to send the clear message that these crimes are unacceptable. Our female folk need to stand up; nobody is going to help them unless they do it by themselves. Every single case should be reported, so that it doesn’t remain under cover. Also, the government should increase the number of women police stations which would make it easy for the females to report any such case.

—The author is a student of law at the Department of legal studies, Central University of Kashmir and can be reached at: huzaif002@yahoo.com