Starting today, men and women travelling on some of the city buses will be separated by an iron net that divides the vehicle into two—the front section for women and the back for men with a door in between for the ticket conductor.
The gender segregation project, a brainchild of the Dehradun City Bus Association, is aimed at outwitting men who try to feel up women passengers in crowded buses, and free up seats reserved for women from seat-hoggers. The entry and exit doors too will be marked out. They also hope the move will encourage more women to travel on buses.
The first set of buses installed with the separation wall will be flagged off from Clock Tower on Saturday.
“We are trying to convince as many bus owners as possible to initiate the facility in their respective buses. We hope that our sisters (women passengers) would feel further confident now while travelling in the buses,” said Vijay Vardhan Dandriyal, the president of the Dehradun City Bus Association.
The idea, which is not original, has been tried, tested and rolled back in some of the states. Years ago, Kerala private bus operators were told to draw a line between women and men on buses by pushing women to the back portion of bus to keep men’s eyes and hands off them. But it failed in the long run. State buses in Hyderabad too has partitioned buses with fibre glass and iron mesh with a sliding door across the aisle, which is cheered by young women travellers on college routes.
College-going young girls in the city, the frequent victims of sexual harassment on buses, said it was great initiative — convinced that the present practice of reserving just seats on buses rarely helped.
“As a girl, I’ll feel more comfortable and secure while travelling on a city bus if there is a segregation for men and women. It will also help in minimising cases of eve-teasing, I hope,” said Megha Kharbanda, who teaches at a preschool.
Tanya Nautiyal, a mass communication student, was curious if such steps for women security could be extended to shared autos.
Women activists feel separation alone will not help the cause of women’s safety and a lot more needs to be done to change the mindset.
Deepa Kaushlam, the director of Dehradun-based Astitva organisation that works for women empowerment, fears that though the intentions might be at the right place but it may “create two different worlds for men and women”.
“What we women want is to sit right next to the men and still be treated by them with respect,” said Kaushlam.
“More than inclusion, this step will lead to exclusion and isolation of women travelling on public conveyance. Instead, the mindset (of men) needs to be changed,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Uttarakhand Transport Corporation had launched ‘special’ all-women buses services from Dehradun to Haridwar/Rishikesh. However, the move didn’t gain traction among the public.
The association has so far convinced operators of five of the 270 buses plying in the state capital to go for segregation. But it might be tough for them to find more takers because permanently dividing up the bus into two exclusive portions could hit their revenue.
In a bus, of the 24 seats, 10 are reserved for women. On a men-heavy day, the partition could restrict men from moving into the empty portion in the women’s section, which could artificially restrict footfall.
And men wondered whether the move will in any way help make some among them behave better.
Abhishek Baluni, a freelance video editor, said: “It will bring cheer to the women travellers.”
“We’ll have to wait and watch to see if the move will make some men behave,” he said.