It is 3 p.m. on Wednesday and a motley group of people have divided Jantar Mantar along political, gendered and religious grounds. While a shradhanjali is being given at the heart of the road, an old woman compares the death of the 23-year-old girl to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and two men sit bare-chested in protest shivering as the temperature dips to 4 degrees Celsius. Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag of loud speakers, candle sellers and placards.
Yet, away from the road, a group of around twenty men dressed in mufflers and caps sit quietly under a red banner: “No tolerance any more on the dignity and safety of women – DTC Workers’ Unity Centre”. These union members attached to the Delhi Transport Corporation say they have been visiting the venue since the incident happened. “Every day we come at least for two hours. It is only today that some of us have taken leave to come sit here for the whole day,” says Manmohan Saini, a technician with the DTC for 25 years.
Their demands or reforms are articulated by the printed papers in their hands: ‘We pledge to take adequate and special care of the comfort and safety of women, children and the aged in the buses’ and ‘we pledge to fight for the equality and dignity of women in the society. And we won’t tolerate any more similar incidents in Delhi, especially in DTC buses’.
The last two words ‘DTC buses’ is the clincher for these men who are fathers to women who have felt insecure on Delhi’s public transport system which is a mix of government operated vehicles, private chartered buses and autos. “The solution is to regularise our jobs and provide proper working conditions,” says Mr. Saini, who blames privatisation of public transport for the poor state of affairs today. “Privatisation of buses and hiring workers on contract basis all contribute to the lack of accountability and safety on roads,” he says.
His colleague, Rajesh Kumar, who also works as a technician interjects: “These private bus operators can drive for only two kilometres on any route and get away with it but DTC employees have a responsibility and we are answerable to the management.” By increasing the fleet of buses to cater to the 70-80 lakh people in the Capital, the men feel that commuters can avoid taking chartered buses that have become hotbeds for crime.
Asked if they would stand up against a miscreant on one of their buses, Sarfuddin Khan, a driver, says he is against anything that is “wrong” and has been extra cautious especially while working the night shifts. As for the fate of the culprits, the men shout in chorus that “they should be hanged!”
However, a soft voice that of Rajesh Chopra who hails from Haryana, a State that has so often been linked to crimes against women, says it is more than just the death penalty. “The inherent attitude that the society has against women must change,” he says, voicing the thoughts of their group leader, General Secretary Shankaran.
“One drawback of this movement is that it does not have as many people from the working class who are participating,” reflects Mr. Shankaran on the mood at the venue. “It is not about just protecting our mothers, sisters and daughters, nor is it about worshipping goddesses,” says this father of two sons. “It is about ensuring that women are respected in the society and are given an equal footing.”