Sapana Kashyap, 23, was quite nervous when she boarded a sparkling new, air- conditioned DTC bus to Hamdard Nagar at Old Delhi Railway Station on a balmy October morning in 2010.
She was worried about how passengers would behave with her — a female conductor. "As I sat on the conductor’s seat, everyone gawked at me in disbelief. I think they only believed it when I showed them the wades of tickets. In fact, I still have a tough time proving to commuters that I am the conductor of the bus they are travelling in," says Kashyap, a conductor on DTC’s route number 425.
Kashyap, a resident of Gulabi Bagh in north Delhi, was born and brought up in Delhi. A graduate from Lakshmi Bai College, Delhi University, she aimed to be a teacher at a government school. Her father, who works as a private chauffeur, however suggested that she could consider working as a bus conductor until that happened. "There is so much competition to secure a teacher’s job, so I agreed," she says.
Everyday, the soft-spoken Kashyap gets up at 5am, reaches DTC’s Rajghat Depot and takes the bus to the first stand of route no 425 — Old Delhi Railway Station — by 7.10am sharp. The bus then completes two rounds between Old Delhi Railway Station and Hamdard Nagar, and comes back depot by 2.30pm. She is back home by 3pm.
Kashyap is happy with the job - especially the AC bus she has been assigned, a ‘good route’, her ‘considerate’ bosses, and a R8,500 salary. “On my route, both the sights and the people are nice. We drive past the Supreme Court, the zoo, Old Fort, and south Delhi areas,” she says.
Kashyap has been on ‘bad routes’ too a couple of times; route number 317 - from Shivaji stadium and Shahdara - for example is not a ride she wants to take again. “The route passes through some of the most congested areas of east Delhi, and I would often end up shouting directions to the driver as he manoeuvred the bus back and forth to take a turn. Besides, the passengers were not-so-decent,” she says.
Being a woman conductor in Delhi is a daunting task, she says. At times she has to put up with unwanted comments and stares from men.
“I remember this guy who kept staring at me. After a while I lost my cool and asked him to stand in front of me and admire me for as long as he wanted. He got down at the next stand. Then there was this man who insisted on sitting next to me, though the entire bus was almost empty. When I didn’t allow it, he created a scene. But I no longer mind who sits next to me,” says Kashyap.
Then there is also the problem of dealing with ill-tempered commuters, ever-ready to pick a fight, especially during the rush hour. “Many commuters keep unfairly accusing me of being a newcomer, and not knowing the stops and fares properly. Some start screaming if I do not hand them the tickets quickly, if the AC is not working, if I do not have change, or if I refuse to open the bus doors at red lights. I have seen several men trying to travel without ticket, but I have never come across a woman trying to do the same,” says Kashyap, adding, “I would never do night duty, as I have heard that many passengers travelling on buses are drunk.”
But she is all praise for her male colleagues, and says she has no problems coordinating with drivers, all of whom are men. “They are quite supportive. At times my being a woman even helps them deal with the traffic police. Once the driver jumped a traffic light by mistake and was stopped by a traffic police woman. When I spoke to her and said sorry, she softened and let us go after giving a small fine,” says Kashyap.
What saddens her, however, is the fact that a bus conductor’s job does not command any respect in society, and Delhiites still cannot accept a woman doing the job. “While my family is comfortable with what I do, some well-meaning passengers often advise me to take up some other job as they feel it’s not meant for women. I am taking computer classes everyday, so that after marriage I can seek a transfer to an office job within the DTC,” says Kashyap.
With that, Kashyap gets back to giving tickets to amused customers.