“Ladies Special Services” Bus Helps Women in India
On April 19, a small fleet of buses made their way through Srinagar, capital of the disputed territory of Kashmir, emblazoned with the words “Ladies Special Services.” The idea was proposed by the first woman Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in response to reports from women being harassed on public transportation. These women-only buses allow women to travel stress-free throughout India.
Harassment in India
Unfortunately, women are hassled on buses all over the globe. However, it is particularly difficult for women in India: a Reuters poll states that 80 percent report being publicly harassed, which ranges from cat-calling, groping or even rape. Women in Kashmir say the harassment is especially bad on the frequently crowded buses. Most have been leered at, groped or even followed.
Stigma often prevents them from reporting. A university student said that she did not tell her parents when a man was targeting her every day, in order to avoid excessive restrictions. Instead, she quietly started walking to school. Other women claim that if they do speak up or make a scene, people either ignore it or even blame them for provoking the molestation. A month before the Ladies buses premiered, Kashmir Observer calls out men who ignore the situation and encourages them to speak up, saying, “you would only be making the world a better place for your mother, daughter, wife or sister.”
Safety with Ladies Special Services
Currently, the Ladies Special Services fleet consists of five buses that make two round trips per day in Sringar. While some male politicians objected to the service, Chief Minister Mufti argued that they do not understand because have never shared these experiences. Because the bus is currently running at a fiscal loss, their service needs government support to continue funding. If not, the bus service will be forced to close.
Ideally, the service will continue. So far it has been a huge success. The bus is full of smiling, relaxed women. Transportation official Mushtaq Chanda reports that he receives a daily deluge of emails asking for expanded service.
Hope to Expand the Service
Ms. Hassan, a woman interviewed by BBC, says that this service is “an answered prayer” because traveling on regular buses is “like going to war.” Many hope that the service will be expanded to run more routes, more often in more cities. The Ladies Special Services have made huge strides toward gender equality by giving some women in India more freedom to safely travel and raising the issue of women’s treatment to the forefront.
– Jeanette I. Burke