The 2012 December gangrape in Delhi in a moving bus and the outpouring of anger against the brutal murder of a young woman could have been the turning point for the safety of women in public places. But since then we have witnessed more and more horrors, the latest being the molestation of a young girl in a bus in Moga and her subsequent death after she was thrown out by her assailants. The most shocking thing about this incident is that it took place in full view of other passengers who did nothing to help the girl’s mother and brother who tried to stop the assailants. This and a number of other cases underscore that women are not safe when using public transport. There have been numerous instances, the Uber cab rape being the most notorious in recent times, when women coming home at night have been attacked by the drivers of their designated taxis. The instances of women being molested and thrown out of trains too are not uncommon.
In the Moga case, the story takes on a new twist, given that it now transpires that the members of the Badal family probably owned the bus in which the crime was conducted. This could explain why the police took an inordinately long time to file an FIR. For millions of women there is no alternative to public transport. Those who own it and run it cannot escape responsibility. We have often found that drivers are either not trained properly, drive while inebriated or are molesters. There have to be far more stringent background checks on drivers and conductors of public transport vehicles. From time to time, the police conduct a crackdown on vehicles and drivers without proper documentation. But for the greater part of the year, they are allowed to roam free. There has often been talk of modernising public transport at all levels, improving street lighting and so on. But once the horror of an incident, like the one in Moga, passes, these intentions are forgotten.
The fact that the police are not cooperative in most cases of public molestation is well known, the inherent implication being that the victim somehow asked for it either owing to her behaviour or her manner of dressing or simply by being outside at a late hour. But, equally alarming is the passive behaviour of people who witness such incidents. In the Moga case, had the other passengers raised a hue and cry, perhaps the girl’s life could have been saved. The fact that these incidents are perpetrated in full view of witnesses also suggests a complete lack of fear of the law. This issue has taken on political overtones, but the problem of women’s safety in public transport should not be obscured in the din.