10 Feb 2011

Public transport unsafe for women in Delhi: High Court

Speaking in the context of the justification of punishment handed out to a bus-conducted for not taking any action against eve-teasing of lady passengers in his bus, the Delhi High Court in a recently reported decision [Delhi Transport Corporation v. Jai Pal Singh 2010 (174) DLT 633] reflected upon the poor safety of females in the National Capital to hold that such state-of-affairs was unbecoming of a gender-equal society.

The High Court inter alia observed as under;
9. Although the said incident was of the year 1993 but even today one cannot ignore the reality that an overwhelming majority of women in Delhi do not feel safe. One does not need hard hitting statistics to prove this, but a daily scan of the newspapers would give a reality check as to how many women face violence in the city on roads, buses or at market places. The core issue that this case has brought forth is the safety of women in public transport. It is common knowledge that most of the women rely on public transport especially buses for day to day travel due to their vast reach. It is often seen that the females feel threatened not only from antisocial and gross elements traveling in the bus but equally from persons manning the bus. The drivers and conductors who are supposed to act as saviours of the passengers are often found themselves indulging in acts of indecency if they get such an opportunity of finding lone female passenger in the bus. Hence, due to such sexual abuse and harassment that is rampant on these buses, their mobility is challenged thus intimidating women transit riders resulting in their avoiding certain transit modes or using them only during specific hours or only when they are accompanied. The menace of eve-teasing is on the rise and it is a typical type of social crime where victims are ordinary females. However, these types of crimes go unreported as women feel embarrassed to report such kind of crimes as the general perception is that there is not much that will culminate by reporting it. Chanakya in the Arthashastra while defending the rule of Chandragupta Maurya wrote: 
The eyes of the man who accosts a woman with evil intentions will be extracted
And now almost 2000 years later also we find that the woman is not spared the evil intentions of men. The immeasurable damage that eve teasing does to a woman's self-esteem and the subsequent avoidance of public places by single women could hardly take us on the way to achieving gender equality.
10. The case at hand exemplifies the irresponsible and pathetic behaviour of the employees of the public transport department. Had the driver immediately applied the brakes and halted the bus, the entire gruesome situation could have been avoided. The Conductor, who is otherwise considered to be the main person manning the passengers inside the bus, owns a more responsible duty towards the passengers to see that no passenger is unnecessarily harassed, manhandled or coaxed or insulted by the co-passenger and no female passenger is teased by any person or faces any kind of indecency or immorality. But here , in the instant case, both the conductor and the driver not only failed in their duty but were hand in glove with the boys who were indulging in behaving indecently with the female passengers. A civilized society cannot afford to ignore such an incident and decency and morality in public life can be promoted and protected only if we deal strictly with those who violate the basic right of dignity of women. Hence, award of any lesser punishment to the conductor will be a source of encouragement to such others, and therefore, the respondent conductor does not deserve grant of any lesser punishment than the removal of service and hence looking into the gravity of the misconduct, the punishment awarded to him is neither disproportionate nor imbalanced and rather any reduction in his punishment would shock the conscious of this Court. The only way to eradicate this venomous practice, in my view, is to have an informed and sensitive citizenry. More so, the employees of the public transport corporation, especially conductors and drivers, should be sensitized towards issues relating to gender violence and women security on a regular basis and a periodic monitoring of the behaviour of those employees against whom there are complaints in the nature of eve teasing, sexual abuse or molestation should be done keeping them on check so that women are not harassed by hoodlums ensuring a safe and secure environment in the buses. To avoid recurrence of such incidents in the national capital, let the Principal Secretary, Department of Transport, Government of NCT of Delhi and the Chairman, DTC file an affidavit spelling out the steps taken by them in this direction and if not, then what mechanism do they propose to have in place to ensure complete safety of female passengers travelling in DTC and other buses under the control of Government of NCT of Delhi. Affidavit be filed within one month from the date of this order.

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