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Using public transport as a woman in India is rarely a ‘simple’ matter – from the ‘just looking’ type to the man who ‘can’t help falling’ on you – sexual harassment is a reality women live with everyday.
The city I call my home, Bangalore, is notorious for having seriously inadequate public transport. As a teenager, I remember changing two buses to travel from college on Palace Road to hangout places on MG Road, a distance of barely a few kilometres.
So it’s no surprise that as soon as I could afford it, I stopped taking buses and began using autos, and later on the ubers and olas.
In recent years though, with bus connectivity improving significantly as well as the arrival of the metro, I have started using public transport a lot more often again. And frankly, given the dismal state of the roads as well as the number of cars on them, I don’t find public transport much slower in most cases.
So far, all good.
What I had forgotten though, was the ubiquity of gropers one finds on buses and trains. For the woman who takes public transport, or is going to begin, here then, is your handy guide to the kind of gropers you can expect to come across.
This man can never keep his feet planted firmly. Oh, the poor man, he is jolted back and forth by the potholes on the road and cannot help falling all over his female co-passengers. Even when he is in the metro and there are no potholes. Protest and he will give you that look of injured innocence. Who me, ‘sister’, he will gasp.
This man has so much between his legs and needs to show it off that he cannot possibly sit in the space needed for one human being of his size. He spreads his thighs wide enough to have the possibility of gently grazing yours. How can you blame him really?
This specimen is to be found not only on all modes of public transport but at any number of other places too – your friendly neighbourhood chemist’s or even your college admin office. Dropped your book? The Helpful Fellow is only too happy to help you pick it up; all he asks for is a quick feel of your hand as he hands it back. So romantic no? No.
I met this specimen recently. He plants himself close to the exit on the metro; so close that any woman heading to get down has to brush past him. It doesn’t matter if there is ample space elsewhere in the compartment. I loudly asked this specimen to move and that seemed to work.
This creature will brush your ass (or any other available body part) on his way out of the bus/train knowing that chances of any consequences are slim. Beyond glaring at him while you are still on the train and he makes his getaway on the platform, there seems to be nothing else one can do.
This one isn’t really a groper, but I felt I couldn’t leave him out, in the interests of being comprehensive. (Also, he will probably graduate to being a groper one day). Standing near a chai stall recently, I found a specimen of this type wandering within a foot of me, even though there was plenty of space on the road. This type looks you up and down closely – and in a way that ensures that you know it. This particular specimen was much shorter than me and therefore found it convenient to walk uncomfortably close to me while staring at my breasts. When I shouted at him to beat it, he protested that he hadn’t “done anything”. My encounter was on the street, but you will find him on all modes of public transport too.
What have I learnt from this mass (mess?) of gropers on public transport?
That age doesn’t matter. I have been groped as a teenager, in my 20s, and now almost two decades on.
That clothes don’t matter. I am yet to wear a sari on a bus or a train, but apart from that, skirts, trousers, salwar kameez, sleeveless, full sleeves – none of it has ever made a difference.
That shouting works. Most of the time. Men do slink away, even as they deny their handiwork. But support is hard to come by. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it.
Most importantly, I have learnt that despite all of this harassment on our streets, I am not afraid. Yes, horrible things happen at times, but I believe that the fewer women there are on the roads, the more likely we are to be seen as vulnerable, exotic specimens who have encroached on men’s place. I continue to go out, to use public transport as and when I can, and refuse to shut up!
Image via Pixabay
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