Bus Day
What began as a thanksgiving gesture for bus crew has turned into a day of revelry for young men, an excuse to indulge in unruly behaviour.
Video screengrab

The Chennai Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) bus inches forward slowly, as more than 20 students stand on the roof, others sit with their feet dangling over the windscreen. One youth swings from the footboard, while another is mounted on the window frame, clinging to the bars. Some of the young men on the roof swing their identity cards merrily, while the youth standing behind hold up the board of the bus route.    

The bus moves slowly and suddenly halts in the middle of the road causing the young men to tumble down onto the road. Some land on the two-wheeler in front of the bus, bringing down the biker and the pillion rider.    

These visuals from the Bus Day celebration that was organised in Chennai on Monday by college students has gone viral. The incident took place along the 27H bus route from Avadi to Anna Square. And while none of the young men were injured, the Kilpauk police has arrested 17 students belonging to Pachaiyappas College.

Raja, Kilpauk Assistant Commissioner of Police said that out of the 17 students arrested by the police on Monday, nine were past students and the others were current students of the college. “We questioned them and by evening we called their parents and in front of them advised the students not to repeat these. We also got a written undertaking from them and let them out on bail. We have registered an FIR on all 17 students for unlawful assembly and creating disturbance to public order,” he told TNM. 

The incident, however, was just one of several on Monday, where unruly behavior of students was the norm under the pretext of Bus Day celebrations.

Bus Day celebrations have, over the years, evolved from a thanksgiving gesture to a day of revelry, an excuse to brandish machetes, indulge in eve-teasing, catcalling and swinging from the footboard of the bus. Despite multiple warnings from Principals of city colleges to not indulge in activities and to stay away from those who engage in such things, the practice continues to exist.

How it all began

Bus Day, as a concept, has existed in Chennai for around five decades. “It started out as a gesture by the students to express their gratitude to the bus crew,” begins Nagarajan Srinivasan, a Chennai resident who lived in Triplicane in the 1970s. Like how colleges arranged farewell parties to its students, the students wanted to thank the bus crew that ferried them to and from their colleges for a whole year, he says and adds that the idea is very similar to Ayudha Pooja and Maatu Pongal.

 “I did my graduation in New College between 1969 and 1973 and this was the time when this concept started out. The boys used to decorate the buses like how they would do for Ayudha pooja, by tying banana branches and festoons on the buses just before our exams started. It was done mainly because we didn’t know if the same driver and conductor would be there the next year when college reopens. Some of them would be in their last year at college as well,” he narrates.

The celebrations usually ended up with the students giving gifts to the conductor and driver of the bus and calling it a day. But despite all the good intentions behind the idea, Bus Day was not all that peaceful as one might love to assume, says Nagarajan.

“Even back then, what started out as fun usually ended up with a tinge of violence. Then the police will interfere and the situation will be restless for a couple of days before returning to normal,” he recalls.

Colleges turn helpless spectators

With students taking inspiration from cinema and TV shows, the colleges where these students study end up being hapless spectators to their ‘celebrations’.

Speaking to TNM, a professor from Presidency College, on the condition of anonymity, says that the students don’t listen to these warnings. “In the college, we try to get them out of the campus as soon as the classes are over since we are scared that they might create issues here. We, as professors, feel that once class is over the students are not our responsibility. But it is not like that for the Principal since the college’s name gets dragged,” she adds.

“The students are basically influenced by everything they see and everything they hear. Taking control of a bus and creating public nuisance seems to portray them as more macho and manly. Hence, they do this. Our popular culture also encourages such thoughts among students,” she explains.

Students don’t realise the consequences of their behaviour

While in most cases the police lets the students off with a warning and advice, there have been cases where FIRs have been registered against the revelers. The underlying aim of police intervention has always been one of reforming the perpetrators.

A senior police officer in Chennai also echoes a similar sentiment. He says that what feels great now has the potential to impact their lives down the line. “The students do this to feel good about themselves. They do not understand the consequence of their actions. They don’t realise the impact that an FIR or an arrest or a remand would have on their careers,” he adds.

Addressing this issue is not something that can be done overnight because the seniors in most colleges go back to their college even after they have graduated and make their juniors do this, says the police officer. The issue becomes grave when a particular bus route is shared by students of more than one of these colleges like 27H. Then it transforms into an issue of dominance over the students of the other college.

The efforts to avoid these should start early, says the police officer. “I personally think that students must be taught the effect of their behaviour in schools and colleges. The role of parents and teachers in this is important. The students must be taught about the longlasting impact this could have on their lives, from a very young age by their parents,” he adds.