I often imagine myself traveling to work in a comfortable seat of a public bus, with the ear phones plugged to my ears and the breeze ruffling my hair. But this has remained mere wishful thinking.
Reckless driving by those behind the wheel, a constant feeling of being pushed from behind even as you stand squeezed within a little space completely breathless, and at times even being groped in the middle of the trip make a ride on a public vehicle a nightmare for women.
The public transport system is a hellish experience, and women and girls are at the receiving end. Day in day out, one must compete with the other passengers, especially men, for the few seats available in a public vehicle, but the state remains indifferent to the woes of the women.
A recent study carried out by Home Net Action, Aid Nepal and Mahila Adhikar Manch revealed that women were subject to sexual harassment while using the public transport system. The study was conducted among 100 girls and women who used public transport on a daily basis, where majority of them stated that they faced sexual harassment while traveling around but were compelled to ignore it because they had no other choice.
The biggest dilemma is that most of the women boarding a public vehicle are unable to speak about the harassment they face. In the first place, there is no evidence of the sexual harassment that the girls face inside a public vehicle. Secondly, even if you try to speak out, you end up with nothing, with nobody to speak on your behalf.
But silence cannot be a solution. I myself have experienced harassment on quite a few occasions while using public transport, especially the micro-buses. But one thing I have learnt is to say “no”, and it seems to work. A simple push and even a stare can help you come out from an awkward situation.
The situation of public transport is deteriorating, what with the lawlessness reigning supreme in every sector. And in such a situation, women and young girls are forced to take a horrendous ride along the city lanes despite the bitter reality. There is no mechanism to lodge a complaint against such harassment or for the poor service. Certainly we deserve better transportation facilities and some strong rules and regulations to combat the problem.
In a welcome move, the traffic police in the Kathmandu Valley have started to monitor if the public vehicles have seat reservations for women. This is necessary so that women, children and elderly citizens can have a safe journey. The effective implementation of the regulation should give an instant relief to the many women who use public transport.
It is the primary duty of the state to reform the public transport system, and that means to encourage public transport like the Sajha Yatayat so that everyone can have a safe and comfortable journey.