Travelling in buses run by the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking is no easy feat, when women have to contend with not just squeezing into a crowded bus and trying to keep their balance, but also have to be on guard to fend off miscreants who are trying to grab and grope at them or brush against them.
Women complain it is getting increasingly difficult to travel during peak hours in BEST buses without getting molested. "It's routine in BEST buses for men to take advantage of women during rush hours. Once, while boarding a bus from Malad station, a labourer touched my back indecently. When I snapped at him, he acted like he didn't understand Hindi," said Akshata Parab, 30, teacher and Malad resident.
Most women said they deal with the situation by either trying to move away from the offender or creating a ruckus. "One of the most commons problems is men standing near seats reserved for women even if the bus is not crowded and rubbing themselves against the woman seated. But I think in all this, the biggest offenders are women who choose to stay quiet," said Shalmali Vartak, 27, a Bandra resident who is doing her doctorate. Few women file sexual harassment complaints, in fact most don't know where to go or whom to complain to.
Many women also complain that men occupy the seats reserved for women and often refuse to vacate them. "When you ask them to get up, they argue. Sometimes conductors are helpful, but some prefer not to intervene," said Vartak.
Bus stops too see a fair share of perverts. "Once a man was masturbating behind the Bhakti Park bus stop. The women stood on the road instead of at the stop," said Rupali Billawa, 19, a college student and Chembur resident.
The BEST said the only thing they can do is aid the police in investigations, if complaints are filed. "The BEST has installed two surveillance cameras in every bus so in case such a complaint is filed with the police, the BEST can assist the police by providing footage. But independently we are not authorised to take action in such cases," said Manoj Varade, assistant public relations officer, BEST.
Defending conductors who choose to look the other way when during disputes for reserved seats or because of molestation, Varade said: "He can only request the passenger to vacate the seat or ask commuters to act as witnesses if an eve-teasing or molestation case is filed."