The Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus drivers and conductors have become infamous for their rash behaviour and insensitivity towards fellow passengers. A quick scan of the consumer complaints lodged on the BMTC’s grievance redressal website, shows the myriad instances where drivers or conductors have misbehaved with passengers, or where women commuters have complained of conductors not helping out when faced with harassment from fellow passengers.
In order to address these issues and also sensitise the BMTC employees, the agency along with Bangalore Political Action Committee conducted gender sensitisation workshops for over 11,000 BMTC drivers and conductors over a span of one year. The last of the workshops was completed earlier in January. Fifty six crore rupees were allocated by the Union government for the programme under the Nirbhaya Fund, a portion of which was used for the program.
Speaking to TNM, Sushma Mahabala, Leader of B.SAFE program for BPAC, says that workshops were conducted twice a week for a batch of 80 to 120 drivers and conductors per batch. “They were three-hour workshops and were in an interactive format,” she says, adding, “There were so many complaints of rash behaviour by drivers and conductors. There were also complaints about sexual harassment by fellow passengers. The workshop was done not only to sensitise the employees about the problems faced by women and the transgender community, but also as to why it is important to change the existing paradigm.”
BMTC Managing Director C Shikha says that the BMTC is happy with the workshops conducted for the drivers and conductors, and that the agency is looking at holding similar workshops for all its employees in all divisions this year.
What the workshops entailed
Pushpa Murthy, a lawyer, who conducted the workshops for BPAC, who is also a B.Clip leader, says that the focus was not only on women's safety but also on how the drivers and conductors must behave and ensure that the buses are safe spaces for commuters. “There were four categories: respect, inviting, safety and ease. We counselled them about how the burden of managing households and also working jobs falls on women and why it is necessary to treat women commuters with respect,” Pushpa says.
One of the most widely-reported complaints by women commuters, Pushpa says, was that bus drivers do not stop the buses at the designated bus stations and also resort to using foul language when asked to wait until the women deboarded with their luggage.
“We had to explain to them why this is important. We told them about how to manage situations when a fellow woman passenger faces harassment by men on the bus. About how to quickly diffuse the situation and ask the men to step back. We counselled them about keeping calm and treating everyone with respect,” she says.
The workshop also informed them of various helplines including the childline and women’s helpline that they could contact. They were taught about the various laws related to sexual harassment and also about zero FIR.
What drivers and conductors say
Shankar is a 40-year-old BMTC driver who reports to the Kengeri Depot. He has been a BMTC driver for over 15 years now and he says that one of the crucial aspects of the workshop was that it brought about dialogue on women's safety and how it was something that most of the employees were unaware about.
“For most of us drivers and conductors who have worked for so long, we become aware of the different types of commuters who come and go and how to deal with them. But so many of us were not aware about why women are always wary and that our behaviour could also help reassure them that the bus is a safe space,” he says.
Ambareesh, who reports at the Rajarajeshwarinagar depot, says that during the workshop, most of the drivers complained about the women and the clothes they wear.
“That was considered normal. For us to think that the way women dress and expect that they have to dress a certain way. Most of the drivers come from rural communities where these issues are not discussed openly. In the workshop, we learned that women have to suffer a lot more issues than men do. Although we read about it in papers, until someone asked for our opinions and gave us advice, it was something that we never paid attention to,” Ambareesh says.
Bhagyalakshmi, a 43-year-old conductor at the Deepanjali Nagar depot says that ever since the workshops began, drivers and conductors have been speaking about various ways to address safety issues within their buses. She says that the workshops have sparked discussions on the way most of the male employees viewed women and transgender persons.
“When it comes to transgender passengers, most of us only viewed them as people who come and beg. We were informed about how gender is not only male and female. They taught us why there is a need to view the issue through another lens and that women and transgender persons too are entitled to public spaces as much as men. Before this workshop, so many of us did not know about zero FIR, helplines and other issues. We did not know anything about gender sensitivity. Now after the workshop, most of us talk about these issues,” she adds.
Bhagyalakshmi says that they were made to write and enact a short play about how they believe the drivers and conductors must behave or react in different situations. “This helped us think about various scenarios and why being respectful and cordial would also make our lives easier,” she adds.