MRTS stations, buses make commuting hard for many women
Is this city safe for women? While a number of women attest that they feel comfortable in the city, many have tales of harassment, faced especially while using public transport, to recount (on social media too).
“It is the time spent waiting for the bus or a train that is of concern. At noon, most MRTS stations are empty and male passers-by tend to pass lewd comments. There is often no police officer in sight to aprroach for help,” said Karthika Krishnan, a 24-year-old who works in a retail store in Mylapore.
After the Delhi gang-rape in December 2012, Karthika got trained in martial arts and keeps a can of pepper spray. “I have never had to use them, though,” she says.
She also has a ‘Help me’ app on her phone that sends alerts to her husband and the Mylapore police station when she presses a ‘code’. “I tried once, just to check. A call went through to my husband, but the call to the police failed,” she says.
Rina Shetty (who responded to a crowd-sourcing message on Facebook) uses a safety mobile application, but does not use it. “You have to keep your GPS on all the time and the battery wears out.”
What will help, says Arjun Sadasivan, internet security consultant with IT companies, is to connect GPS devices installed in public transport vehicles to a control room. “Whenever a vehicle deviates from the usual route, alerts and CCTV frames can be sent to the police. But these systems need proper maintenance and manpower,” he adds.
Subha Santhi was among the many working women in the city who spend over an hour every day, shuttling between their homes and offices on Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses.
A central government employee, she says, “A51 is the only direct bus from my home to office. Its frequency reduced and the vehicles became overcrowded. For those who begin the day before dawn, preparing breakfast and lunch for the family, it is an ordeal to travel in packed buses,” she says.
Now, Ms. Santhi commutes by private vans, spending Rs. 2,000 a month sharing a maxi cab with several others.
Women commuters say there is a difference in the design and the overall space available in buses, at present. Some of the new vehicles have a fewer number of seats reserved for women commuters, compared to the earlier models.
G. Bharathi, a resident of Tambaram, says it is frustrating to see men occupying seats reserved for women.
A senior MTC official said they operate 200 buses exclusively for women during rush hours, every day. They have, however, not conducted any survey to get feedback from women commuters.
Users of microblogging site Twitter said, by and large, travel on MTC services was safe. “MTC is a very safe and quick way to travel for working women and easy on the wallet too,” said S. Janani (@janvats). “I have been in Chennai for more than two years. I have not seen an instance of women being harassed on MTC buses, people here give a lot of respect to women,” tweeted G.Varun (@IamGvarun), from Hyderabad.