For her safe travel

About 40 per cent women commuters face sexual harassment in Delhi buses. 
Civil society organisation Jagori holds workshops to train drivers and conductors
to deal with the problem, writes Tripti Nath

ALMOSt a decade ago, a newspaper advertisement issued in public interest by the Delhi Police showed women being harassed at a bus stand in the presence of silent male bystanders. The copy read: "There are no men in this picture, or this would not happen." The text may have sexist overtones but it flags the fact that Delhi has long had a reputation for being the most unsafe city in India for women.

Department of Women and Child Development officials and NGO Jagori representatives at a gender sensitisation training workshop for DTC staff
Department of Women and Child Development officials and NGO Jagori representatives at a gender sensitisation training workshop for DTC staff Photo: WFS

Research by civil society organisations like Jagori, a women’s training, documentation and communication centre based in Delhi, revealed that public transport is one of the critical spaces where sexual harassment takes place. Yet, women are forced to suffer this crime in silence, as people around them, mostly men, choose to look the other way. Even when a woman raises her voice against someone trying to invade her personal space, she gets no support, not even from the bus conductor, who is the sole interface between the transport authority and the public.

Anuradha Singh, 42, a Delhi professional, confirms this trend: "I have been commuting by DTC buses from college days. As a student one doesn’t know how to deal with harassment and feels extremely violated. If one decides to challenge them, there is no help forthcoming. Things have not really changed over the years."

Adds Sakshi Khurana (name changed): "Before I started commuting by buses, I was given a list of do’s and don’ts by my mother. But nothing worked."

In an effort to make the daily travel of women like Anuradha and Sakshi a little more secure, the Delhi Government’s Department of Women and Child Development has teamed up with Jagori to organise gender sensitisation training workshops for the instructors of the Delhi Transport Corporation’s (DTC). The workshops, held at DTC’s training centre in Nand Nagri in north-east Delhi, are part of a project on making cities more gender inclusive.

A recent survey by Jagori conducted among women who have been living in Delhi for more than five years has confirmed that 70 per cent of women suffer sexual harassment of one kind or another in public places. Although its findings are yet to be formally released, the survey has shown that 38 to 40 per cent women face sexual harassment in buses, autorickshaws and even on the metro.

Keeping in mind this disturbing scenario, Jagori has designed a training module to sensitise DTC instructors. They, in turn, train drivers and conductors, the men who can eventually help make a difference. Fifty DTC instructors participated in the programme, which was supported by UNIFEM and the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.

During the training, the message was clear. Safety of women commuters should extend beyond merely running "ladies special" services. According to the 30-page training module, DTC drivers should ensure that helpline numbers are displayed on every bus. It reminds drivers and conductors of their right to refuse entry to persons who are drunk or are carrying arms. It enumerates nine actions that constitute sexual harassment, and calls upon drivers to apprise supervisors in bus depots about cases of harassment and the action taken on such cases.

Besides, the module seeks to create legal awareness by listing the provisions in the Indian Penal Code that punish sexual harassment — Section 294 — for obscene gestures or songs; Section 354 for outraging the modesty of a woman by using criminal force; and Section 509 for outraging a woman’s modesty through obscene words or gestures.

On the opening day of the training programme, Rahul Roy, a well-known documentary filmmaker credited with pioneering work on issues related to masculinity, initiated the interaction with DTC instructors by asking a simple question: "How many of you have heard of complaints of sexual harassment from women in the family?" To his surprise, only three instructors raised their hands. He then asked the instructors if they had ever asked women members in their families to share problems related to sexual harassment. The question evoked responses bordering on chauvinism. Stated an instructor from Gurgaon: "In our families, women don’t even step out to buy a matchstick." Another added that if their female relatives were ever stalked or harassed, they, as the men of the family, would not spare the person indulging in such behaviour.

Most instructors felt that drivers and conductors need to be empowered to take action in cases of sexual harassment.

According to A.K Srivastava, Senior Manager, Personnel and Training, DTC, over 3,600 DTC drivers and conductors had benefited from participating in an awareness building and gender sensitisation programme.