This has been my schedule for the past six years in Chennai. Being an immigrant to the Southern Metro of Chennai, I was intimidated at first. Intimidated by the speed and the size of everything around me. Rampant pollution, noise, a casual indifference among the people rushing to get to their workplaces and homes, various modes of transport – all of these scared the shit out of me. Of course, this was almost seven years back. I dug in, quite well, to be honest. Since then, Chennai has been my home. My very own Madras.
And then came the time, when I had to get to classes as early as six in the morning after which I had office and then again some classes. I used to reach my room, my humble abode, which I shared with three other people, at nine thirty at night. I depended solely on MTC buses and Share Autos.
Apart from being subject to pick-pocketing once and groping once, I should add that my commutes by these buses have been uneventful. I considered myself lucky if I got a seat, luckier when I am not at the receiving end of the conductor’s jibes and the luckiest when the bus actually stops at my bus stop. Gradually I started becoming tired after a whole day’s work and classes that the bus travel was killing me. Combine this pain with the changes in the client location and menstruation once a month, I was living the life of a nomad.
That was when my parents got the lovely idea of gifting me with a two wheeler, a TVS Scooty Pep+. My life became easier. I thought I was safe and that my spirit was sane. I took my scooty everywhere. The shop nearby, the classes, the client location, you name it and I would be there with my reliable companion. It gave my wings back to me with the assurance that only motherly hugs could give.
Peak hours are a curse. This is not confined to just Bangalore or Mumbai. Chennai choked during peak hours. No amount of strategic planning could actually save me from those peak hour signals and the crazy driving that comes along with it. I was pushed to negotiate the roads alongside the experts like the MTC buses and trucks. What chance would a minuscule scooty stand against such behemoths??
The first enemy for anybody riding a scooter, is the window of the bus. You never know who would end up choosing the exact same time to spit out the window, as you bask in the glory of overtaking the bus. What are the odds, you ask? Oh! Trust me when I say “too many”. People seem to be happily oblivious to the fact that the bus is not the only vehicle cruising on the roads and there are others, who are lesser fortunate, who drive alongside and would really not favor being spat on.
The second enemy is obviously the door of the bus. Chennai buses are crowded. We have a pathetically small fleet when compared to the size of the population that uses these buses. Invariably, all the buses that I am pushed to share the space with, at the signals, would be overflowing with people. With guys hanging on the foot-board (Don’t get me started on the dangers of foot-board travel), the opportunities to get cat-called and leered at, is high.
Today was one such day. It was no different from other days, but still let me give you a description of how it was. As I started from my work, my first stop was the Gemini signal, which is notorious for its traffic. Beside me was a bus, which held people, at a number more than its designated capacity. The signal lasts typically for about a minute and one has to wait, no matter what. I felt numerous pairs of eyes on me, violating me all through the 60 seconds. It was gross to such an extent that I had to cover myself up with my dupatta. And no! My attire was not asking for this to happen. I felt bad. I felt disgusted.
Trust me when I say this is a very normal thing to happen to women who opt to ride a scooter. They are being violated with eyes.
Personally I hold very less tolerance towards such transgressions. Creating a ruckus in a long distance SETC bus to Madurai during Pongal season years back due to molestation and pricking a guy who groped me in a 17M bus, with a safety pin in Chennai on a fine morning stands to my credit. I am thankful that my parents gave me the balls to shout and make a mayhem when someone exploits my private space. I consider myself fortunate. But it shudders me to think of hundreds of other women, who are not as fortunate as I am. What about them?
I have no qualms with the cops of Chennai, for I have always found them to be courteous and helpful. One just needs to approach them in a kind and respectful manner and trust me they will help for sure. I have experienced this at Mylapore Police station post 8.30 PM, when I had gone to lodge a complain about my missing wallet.
I would say that the general mentality must change. Bus drivers and conductors need to be educated to take complaints seriously and not dust it off by saying, “It is peak hours and we cannot help it”. No. If you can’t who else will??
People, at large, must be given awareness. Safety is not about one man or one woman. It is about the community as a whole. One should feel safe to venture out. One should feel safe that even if something unfavorable happens, there are people to help out. That is where actual success lies.
Let us spread awareness about this to each and everyone, personally. Forget about what the society can do and focus on what one can do. Each of us doing our part, would help the society achieve something substantial.
Let us make Chennai safe!
* AWARE is an Non Profit Organisation working to make Chennai city safer and sustainable. If you can spare a few minutes off your precious time, please participate in this survey, the results of which would be shared with the concerned authorities to make transport safe in Chennai. *
Image credits- Google