Female commuters facing unpleasant experiences in Kashmir’s messy public transport is an acknowledged issue. What is still not articulated, is the degree of this nuisance, which varies from person to person.
The crisis of such exploitation is mounting each day passing. We do notice the invisible rough patches of the route for our female folk, but we choose to conveniently ignore them. Why? Let’s find out.
Separate transport is/was never the solution. As I already mentioned in former columns, that men don’t rape; rapists do, irrespective of gender. How you carry yourself and deal with the opposite sex is what categorizes you as a rapist or not.
While the Holy Quran directs Muslim women to dress modestly,It commands, with more intensity, that Muslim men must lower their gaze. If men don’t obey the commandments of the holy text, why are religious diktats reserved for women only? Why do we have to blame women when the perpetrators are men in this case. Who gives men this right to undertake moral policing?
Men or women, wear what they feel most comfortable, fit and confident in. Attire is a personal choice. Surprisingly, men question a woman’s choice of clothng but women don’t. As a man, I have absolutely no right to judge someone’s outfit. And the bizarre fact is, it is not just the girls’ wearing leggings or jeans who are are being harassed, ask the girls who don the Abaya, they narrate harrowing details of sexual harassment in public transport. So the arrant point is that we are morally bankrupt.
We indulge in blame game and mudslinging when asked to tackle such grave issues. Many female passengers said that they can’t even share the graphic details of what they have gone through in overloaded buses. On the condition of anonymity, I will share a few grim anecdotes of how jam-packed buses have become a safe haven for predators pouncing on their ‘prey’. I hope you will understand the sensitivity and gravity of the mess with the disclaimer that it is just the tip of an iceberg.
Disease & Disorder
Inappropriate touch is not encouraged anywhere in the world. Kindly note that sexual interest and arousal obtained from touching a stranger is called toucherism. In medical language, it is called frotteurism; when someone rubs against a non-consenting person, usually in a crowded place. We also call it paraphilia. Yes ! it is a medical condition!
And an abnormal condition too. Usually, sexually frustrated men suffer from this disease. Researchers suggest that 30% of men have engaged in frotteuristic act/s at some point in time. Clinically people diagnosed with frotteurism feel that they can have intimacy with a stranger in a public space. So, it is a dangerous disorder. Now, imagine how common it is in Kashmir. Those suffering from this medical condition should seek help from mental health professionals. Talk to a therapist before you are charged with a sexual offense since the frotteuristic act is considered a sexual assault.
Law of the Land
Law prevails to protect victims of sexual abuse. As per IPC’s Section 354(A), a man committing any physical contact, involving unwelcome advance and explicit sexual overtures; or demanding or requesting sexual favours; shall be guilty of the offense of sexual harassment. Punishment under this Act involves rigorous imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years. Moreover, under sections 209 and 509, any obscene act at any public space or uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman qualifies for harassment. The accused can be imprisoned for a term of up to 90 days or fine, or both, while under-509, imprisonment for a year, or fine or both can happen. If the constitution of the country aims to protect its women, then why are these laws not being implemented? Who is to be blamed?
With no quick-fix solutions to this monstrous menace, why don’t we discuss it, debate it? Why it is not a popular discourse when it is grossly affecting the mental stability of our teens/adolescent girls? Scores of girls in rural areas have discontinued their studies. They repel boarding crowded buses daily. They can’t afford to travel in cabs. They prefer to remain unemployed and stay home.
How long can we shy away from talking about this “taboo topic”?
Traffic police can surely come up with concrete solutions but they don’t seem to be bothered about this indecency prevailing in our society. They, perhaps, are running short of manpower, as most of them are seen blocking traffic to allow VIPs to pass through wrong lanes. They have pursed their lips and are mute spectators when half of our population is suffering silently. This under-reported torture of Kashmiri girls is not shaking our conscience. There is no proper mechanism in place. The police don’t respond to distress calls if any. Girls are forced to board off the buses when they can’t withstand the molestation they face in overloaded buses. Salacious comments and smutty gestures make it difficult for women passengers to commute to their respective places. Women police stations have completely failed to address the issue.
Many believe that ladies’ special bus service, started by Kashmir’s first and only female CM of the erstwhile state, Mehbooba Mufti, was a wonderful initiative if executed properly. I disagree. I was working with the research wing of the Chief Minister’s Private Office in those days. It is a cute mistake. Let me explain. The offender is among us. He is ill-mannered and mentally unwell. Exclude him. Excluding ‘soft-gender’ from the normal frame is an abnormal idea. This initiative goes against the very idea of inclusivity. It is not a joy-ride for women. It never was. There was nothing special in this service. Women can’t operate in a parallel universe. They are part of the frame. They deserve respect, not pink colour buses. Workplace sexual harassment is also a reality. Does that mean we will segregate the sexes at work places too?
Road Safety Week
National road safety week was observed from January 11-17, 2022. Nothing extraordinary happened. We witnessed the customary drama on roads for the week and traffic police came up with a list of achievements. The number game will continue, e.g., Thirty thousand bikers violated the norms. Will they ever list the number of men arrested for tarnishing the chastity of young girls in the buses/cabs they regulate?
They will tell us the number of injuries due to road rage but they will not tell us the number of injuries inflicted on college-going girls who were sexually molested in overcrowded public buses. The lackadaisical approach of traffic police is shocking, to say the least.
The administration will flag off Walkathon (Walk for Awareness) but will fail to curb the menace of exploitation in buses. They will discuss the corrective measures to minimise road accidents to save lives but who will discuss the road blues of lady sufferers. The blaring solution is that the Drivers fraternity has to take a pledge and reaffirm that they will take all preventive measures to make the commute of women passengers safe and hassle-free. Otherwise carrying placards and signature campaigns doesn’t solve anything. Let the department stay away from publicity stunts this year and show us the impact on the ground.
Is the Government Listening?
We know who is humiliating our mothers and sisters daily but still stay silent. We have normalized this crime. The amount of pain a Kashmiri woman goes through on several fronts has affected her psyche. Kindly heal her scars. We can’t stoop so low as to make it worse by inflicting sexual torture on her. She is robbed of her freedom in the first place and making her feel unsafe is third-degree torture, a hallmark of fascism. I request the Hon’ble LG Shri Manoj Sinha to come up with stringent measures to curb this menace. Kindly remove such invisible stumbling blocks from her way by ensuring a zero-tolerance policy to harassment. This will be a leap forward on the road to prosperity.