Bengaluru is facing a major health crisis with a spurt in COVID-19 cases and coupled with the 8 pm shutdown and reduced bus services, the limits on the number of passengers on each bus have resulted in those without private vehicles finding themselves at a disadvantage.
Incidentally, women are the worst-affected. A Bengaluru-based researcher working on labour issues has documented her harrowing experience on Friday night detailing how she and a few other women had to wait for a long time before they could get a seat on a bus and reach their homes before the 8 pm curfew begins.
In her email, she elaborated how she had waited at the BEL circle bus stop (towards MS Palya) on Friday evening for 45 minutes before she could board a bus.
In an email written to Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) Managing Director C Shikha, Harpreet Kaur said, “I'm writing to draw your attention to an issue bus commuters are facing due to the physical distancing rules put in place in the light of COVID-19, and the 8 pm to 5 am night curfew. As buses reach seating capacity quickly on the Sadashivanagar police station to MS Palya/Sambhram college route, many commuters, especially women, are asked to deboard by conductors, many of whom are insensitive to the fact that a lot of women rely on public transport and have to reach home before the night curfew begins at 8 pm.”
Harpreet described in her letter that multiple buses came by the stop at BEL Circle, but they were not allowed to board the buses since there were no women seats available.
“I waited at the BEL circle bus stop (towards MS Palya) yesterday for 45 minutes before I could board a bus. It was pouring and there were some 50 people in the bus stop, those waiting for a bus, and bikers who'd come to take shelter from the rain. Only 5-6 of us were women,” she wrote in the letter.
“Between 6.50 pm and 7.35 pm, two 401 buses stopped and in both these buses, there were no seats for women so we were not allowed to board. Then, at 7.35 pm, another 401 bus stopped and although this wasn't my direct bus, three-four other women and I decided to get in. We were asked to deboard again because all women's seats were taken. Then, I saw that two men had occupied seats reserved for women. By this time, the other women had gotten off. I told the conductor that I'm not going to get off and that he should tell the men to deboard instead.”
She said at this moment, two other men on the bus asked her to deboard, as according to them, she was holding up other passengers. She then tried to reason with the conductor that she along with other women had been waiting for a long time. She even warned that she would take photos of two men occupying ladies seats. She said that this was not the first instance that she had to face this kind of situation.
She said, “Either this, or the buses don't stop. This has happened at BEL circle bus stop, Sadashivanagar police station (towards BEL circle) and at MS Palya (towards Sambhram college). A lot of women working in retail stores at BEL road have to take the bus home and they've been refused entry so many times at 7.30 pm, when there's just half an hour left for the night curfew to start.”
Harpreet concluded saying, “I'd like to point out that if the BMTC is making rules relating to physical distancing owing to the pandemic, it should also arrange more buses, at least in routes that see a lot of footfall. Failing to do so will only exacerbate commuters' issues and make BMTC complicit in apathy, especially towards working-class women who may not have the luxury of working from home and have to reach home before the start of the night curfew but can only afford public transport to commute to work. I'd request you to look into this and also sensitize the BMTC staff members to these issues.”
BMTC MD C Shikha told TNM she is yet to read the email but assured that she will examine the issue.
TNM has earlier reported how limited bus services inadvertently affect women and informal workers negatively since bus services resumed since the onset of the pandemic.