BMTC’s women safety committee remains hidden from public eye

City women

Reports say that the helpline number for women commuters is too complex to remember.

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation’s (BMTC) initiatives for the safety of women passengers—women safety committee and helpline number—have not been able to serve their purpose due to improper functioning and lack of awareness amongst the commuters.

Ankitha Sarika Cheppudira, a student and a regular commuter of BMTC buses, said that she has only heard about a helpline for night travel and not of the women safety committee. “If the committee is there, it should not be for name’s sake and they should make sure that every woman knows that such a committee exists.”

In 2013, BMTC announced that it will set up a committee to look into the complaints of sexual harassment of women passengers in BMTC buses. The committee was supposed to have women commuters and BMTC officials as its members.

However, a report on gender equality and social inclusion in BMTC fleet stated that people are not aware of the committee  and the BMTC website does not include any information about it. .

Kusuma Omprakash, a woman bus conductor at BMTC said that she is part of the committee and the committee provides 10 days karate training and other techniques to keep women safe.

The BMTC also has Pink Sarathi cabs which were launched to address the grievances of women passengers on the road within 10 minutes after a report gets filed.

However, she said that BMTC uses them for their own purposes.

Even some BMTC officials are not aware of the committee. One such official from the call centre department of BMTC said that the department receives queries and complaints from passengers for passes, BMTC application, and complaints from women regarding safety among other issues. However, these do not come under the women safety committee.

Rema, a working professional said that she has never heard about the committee. She further said that traveling through BMTC buses at night is worrisome for her because at times there are only male passengers in them. She gets scared when they start talking about women traveling alone. She added that she expects BMTC to work through the women safety committee to make  travel safer for women.

“When you set up a committee, the idea is to provide a redressal mechanism and to  address the issues faced by the women passengers. The responsibility of the committee is to document instances of problems and give solutions for the same,” said Meenakshi Giridhar, former trustee-treasurer at Durga, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for women safety. But in the absence of the committee or due to its improper functioning, the  harassment that women face on public transport is never talked or complained about, she said.

The essence of a committee is lost in the large paperwork. If commuters do not have a proper mechanism to complain about what happened, the committee fails to achieve its purpose even if it is there on paper, Giridhar further said.

Step forward

The report suggested that there is a need to simplify the women helpline number (1-800-425-1663) and create awareness amongst people about the number and the sarathi vehicles for their appropriate usage.

The BMTC app should reinstate the helpline number for the passengers and a mechanism to place a call through that, said Giridhar.

Pooja Verma, an urban planner for sustainable cities said that the committee should compose of technical experts relevant to the safety sector along with people from different age groups., This will bring  aholistic approach to addressing issues faced by women in public transport.

Further, the committee should address issues like last-mile connectivity of buses and safety of children along with women, Verma said. The committee also needs to have regular review meetings to address various issues through a participatory approach like taking the help of student unions.,. The safety of women commuters also can be addressed by sensitising drivers and conductors at various bus stands.

Prabsahay, a civil lawyer said that the committee is just a voluntary initiative and does not come under any  law. It can only be looked at as a promise not kept by the government.

The report recommended the committee be revived. It suggested that the committee should include members of commuter forums such as Bengaluru Bus PrayaanikaraVedike (BBPV). It should have at least 30 percent representation from NGOs, and 50 percent women, along with trans persons and persons with disabilities. The activities and initiatives of the committee should be regularly updated on multiple media channels.