More women in Goa are choosing the profession of conductor in their own private buses
Jacinta Alfonso used to sell fish once. Now she is the conductor of a mini bus in Goa. Her husband is the driver of the bus owned by the couple. Jacinta, who belongs to a family of fishermen, studied only till Class IX; she used to sell fish at the Panjim market before she fell in love and got married. She continued selling fish till 2003 when the couple bought a second-hand bus.
Their hard work paid off and today they own a brand-new bus; Jacinta has even hired a co-conductor to help her during peak hours. She is a familiar face on the Panjim-Dona Paula route, as she hops in and out of her bus trying to take as many commuters on her bus as possible. “Sometimes drunken men or unruly youngsters board the bus but I have learnt to cope with all these situations,” she says.
Mother of a school-going son, Jacinta finishes her household chores in the morning and the rest of it is taken care of by her mother who stays with them.
Smita Shirodkar, too, is the conductor of a mini bus owned by her; however, she has hired a driver. She bought the bus on loan in 2006 which has been repaid, she says. “It is not profitable to hire a conductor because not only one has to pay the salary but one cannot stop them from doing hera pheri (cheating).”
“Moreover, when a woman is the conductor, commuters, especially young girls, feel much safer. I, too, ensure that there is no eve-teasing,” Smita says, adding that she does not allow overcrowding.
She has three daughters and she says that they have no objection to her working as a conductor. “They say that they are proud of me.”
Smita’s eldest daughter wants to sit for the UPSC exams while the second one wants to become a mechanical engineer. She says that her husband, who works with Kala Academy in Goa, fully supports her.
Smita’s husband helps managing the day’s first trip at 6.10 a.m. while she prepares her children for school. There is a one and half hour’s lunch break in between and she returns home at around 9.30 p.m. “I am able to manage because I have a joint family and I don’t have to worry as my children are taken care of,” she says.
Both Smita and Jacinta say that conductors and drivers of other buses are very supportive of their efforts.
When I first saw Devanti (name changed) wearing a beautiful rust-coloured silk sari with zari border and sporting a big kumkum bindi on her forehead, I thought she was one of the commuters. But as I looked around for the conductor to buy my ticket from Miramar beach to Panjim market, she smiled at me and said that she is the conductor of the bus owned by her. She is the latest entrant in this traditionally male-dominated profession though she is media shy and hesitant to talk about her new role.
Goa had its first lady bus conductor way back in 1981. Bharti Tari was among the three women who were appointed as bus conductors by the Kadamba Transport Corporation Ltd (a Government of Goa undertaking) . Bharti worked as a conductor till 1984 before the management decided to withdraw women from the job and asked them to do office work instead.
The Goa State Transport Corporation (GSTC) tried to rope in women conductors in an all-women bus in 2000 but the venture did not work, says Arun Desai, Director (Transport).
Over 1,600 buses ply in Goa out of which 1,200 are privately owned. Except for a handful of them, most of the owners run a single bus. While the GSTC is still not hiring women conductors, many women are launching their careers in the field in the privately owned buses — a trend that is picking up quickly.