For 20-year-old Swetha, a second-year commerce student at a private college in the city, the bus stop opposite the Government Veterinary College in Vepery would be ideal place to board a bus back home.
However, Swetha, among others who form a small group of commuters, a large number of whom are collegemates who travel on the same bus route, board a bus from the stop near Bentinck Higher Secondary Girls School in Vepery, a kilometre away from the stop nearest to her college.
Harassers, most of them in their early 20s, are the reason behind many young girls, schoolchildren and working women avoiding taking a bus from the stop opposite the veterinary college. Many women commuters prefer to take an autorickshaw to reach their destinations.
The bus stop, which is popularly known as the veterinary college bus stop, is located among nearly a dozen educational institutions including Jain Vidyalaya, Baynes Memorial Bapist Church Matriculation Higher Secondary school, and Don Bosco Primary school. Besides, students from the Government Veterinary College and Jain College too board buses from the stop.
The women commuters who wait at the veterinary college bus stop do so in the hope that if any trouble arises, shopkeepers along the Vepery Main Road where the bus stop is located will come to heir rescue.
“Most bus stops near women colleges in the city have some presence of police personnel to keep away mischief makers. But, here we have been left to fend for ourselves,” said Aashika, a college student and commuter.
Many woman commuters complain that a large number of the mischief makers are from the neighbouring housing complexes of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) in Periyamedu. During the morning and evening rush hours, young men form small groups and stand in different spots near the bus stop and create nuisance for the commuters and shopkeepers. No one, including the shopkeepers along the road, dare to question these mischief makers as they fear retaliation by the gangs who reside in the area.
“Earlier, we voiced our complaints with the senior police officers in charge of the area and also alerted the Periyamedu police about the issue. But, there was no response from them. A dedicated police team should be deployed near the bus stop at least during rush hours for the safety of women commuters,” said K.V. Ramamurthy, a trader in Vepery.
Nearly a year ago, to keep a check on the mischief makers, the MTC built a new bus shelter, around 500 metres away from the bus stop opposite the veterinary college. However, none of the buses halt at the designated newer stop. Instead, all of them halt at the veterinary college bus stop making it convenient for the harassers to mingle with the crowd and go unnoticed.
During the rare police patrols, the men slip into the shops along the stretch near the bus stop. As a result, the new modern bus shelter, built at a cost of Rs. 5 lakh, remains unused.
“Routine police patrol will be done. But, the MTC should direct all buses to halt at the new bus shelter rather than the existing bus stop, which is crowded with many shops and offices,” said a senior officer attached to the Kilpauk police.