Shruthi Prakash (26) says she does not know what disturbed her the most: the instance of sexual harassment she faced on a bus or the apathy and victim blaming she faced post the incident, which ultimately discouraged her from filing a police complaint.
On July 7, Shruthi was travelling from Bengaluru to Chennai in a bus operated by VHB Travels, the ticket for which she bought through the platform, redBus. During the wee hours of the morning, she allegedly felt someone groping her while she was sleeping. “When I woke up, I saw a man lying down, below my lower berth. When I asked him what he was doing there, he responded saying ‘his hands were with him’ even though I didn’t mention it. I immediately filed a complaint at the redBus app at around 4 am and by 4.20 am, the bus was stopped. I came to know that the man was a bus staffer,” she tells TNM.
After around an hour of scolding him, the bus driver took the bus to Chennai, and there was a police intervention. However, Shruthi and her family did not press charges after Shruthi had to hear multiple remarks from the driver and others along the lines of “your name will get spoilt.”
When she later enquired with redBus about what action was taken, they pointed out that the bus operator would be taking action against the employee. “However, they refused to blacklist the bus operator saying that no prior complaints were received. But neither the redBus or the VHB Travels were really apologetic and made remarks like ‘do not publicise this story, because you are a woman and your name will be spoilt’. The police case should be handled by me because it was ‘victim’s problem’, and so on. It was then that I asked for a compensation, which they refused,” she adds.
However, things took a turn when Shruthy decided to post about the incident on social media. “As soon as the post was up naming the bus company and redBus, the operator came for a reconciliation saying that he would pay the money if I took down the post. But it is not about the money, I want something to be done so that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else. As far as I know, the offender is absconding. He ran away when the bus stopped in Chennai and no further action has been taken on this issue,” she says.
When TNM contacted redBus, the spokesperson responded via email, saying, "This particular incident is shocking, shameful and regrettable. We fully empathise with our customer, who was the victim of this incident, and wish to see the perpetrator brought to book. Like with all safety incidents, when any customer reaches out to our contact center to report one, it immediately gets escalated. In this case too, when the customer reached out to us at 4.06 AM, our agent was available online to provide immediate assistance by alerting the bus operator and the other bus crew to provide support to the customer. The bus operator has since terminated the services of the employee with immediate effect and has offered help to proceed legally against the said person.”
The bus operators also responded to TNM via email saying that they “deeply regret” this incident, and have apologised to the traveller for everything she has had to go through. “We have terminated the misbehaved Staff Vijayakumar immediately; my manager and I called the customer and apologized; we have refunded the travel ticket; we assured the customer to support her in filing the legal case against the misbehaving employee; we have implemented a few SOPs like 24*7 customer care number to address this kind of issue. Also we will work continuously on the safety norms for all our travellers; and I have also sent an apology email to the customer mentioning these points,” they said.
This is not the first time a complaint has been raised against a bus operator functioning with redBus. In 2016, a woman travelling from Goa to Bengaluru was allegedly molested by the driver of a Seabird Travels bus.
Note: TNM has taken permission from Shruthi to use her name in the article.