On Thursday night as Dharmender Singh, a driver with the Delhi Transport Corporation, and his assistant waited at the Shivaji Stadium bus stop for passengers of route No. 620 to arrive, they did not expect to see men and women, young and old celebrating a bus journey.
As a bus driver, Dharmender is used to people rushing in, jostling for space and dashing to catch the last bus, but he’d never before seen passengers who sang their way into a bus, a few strumming their guitars while others contently clapped on.
“On most nights I encounter drunken men, some sing, most pick a fight. This is a first for me. I am not even sure why this is happening and why they’ve chosen my bus,” he said.
But the merry making group knew exactly why. “We are reclaiming our space. We are sending out a message. This city is ours and it is for us to make it safe. By travelling on a bus we want to put pressure on the administration to make the city and its public transport safe,” said renowned theatre personality Moloyashree Hashmi of the Jan Natya Manch, a theatre group that along with four other organisations had initiated a “cultural protest” the 9-30 Ki Aakhiri Bus to draw attention to unsafe and inadequate public transport in the city.
The initiative invited citizens to take the last bus home and in doing so, send out a message that the city’s people, especially women cannot be confined indoors.
Commuters who turned up for the unique bus ride experience were encouraged to sing, recite poetry, carry messages on their person or simply ride the bus.
“My mother was very concerned; she said it isn’t safe out there, so I shouldn’t go. I told her it is to change this mentality that I am going. She’s been constantly calling me, but this is something I want to do,” said Megha Kalia, a student of Indraprastha University.
Safety, or the lack of it is an everyday concern said Arunavo, an IT professional, who strummed the guitar and sang on the bus.
“But there is scope for improvement,” he said, adding that while 50 per cent of the responsibility to make the city safe rests with the people, the other 50 is the government’s job.
“I intentionally travel in a bus everyday. It helps me connect with people, interact with society…” he said on his reasons for travelling on the public transport system.
For others like Akhila Singh of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, the idea of being on a bus in the night is a message to the political class and the administration to refrain from setting boundaries for women. “There have been too many statements from our politicians about how women should dress and when they should go out….but by being out today we are sending them a message that we will be out at whatever time of the day or night in what we choose to wear and it is their responsibility to ensure our security,” she said.
Thursday’s initiative is the first step, said Ms. Hashmi. “We didn’t expect the numbers that have turned up. It is very heartening. We are hoping there will be more such travelling.”