“Earlier, I used to spend at least Rs 50 per day travelling on public transport. The new initiative has helped me save on my meagre monthly wages of just Rs 5,000. However, some people consider it a burden and insult us on buses. I have faced disrespectful treatment from the conductors and drivers on many occasions,” said R Kasturi from Manali, who works at a tailoring firm.
Regular women commuters point out that when seats are occupied by them, the male passengers make demeaning comments that free passengers get to sit while they have to travel standing etc. Priya (name changed), a college student, said: “Recently when I travelled with a friend on 38D Tiruvottiyur-Kodugaiyur route bus, the conductor asked whether we are going to college or somewhere else in a sly manner. Never in the past has anybody asked such improper questions, and it was repeated twice. Though we raised a verbal complaint to the bus depot authority, no steps were taken.”
Women passengers also complain that the conductors sometimes don’t even call out the bus stop location to those who don’t know and often refrain from issuing the free tickets, which they are supposed to do. “When we ask them for the free tickets, they don’t respond and if we ask them more than twice, they yell at us and say they are concerned only about paid tickets,” said Shanthi R, a resident of Velachery.
“If the state government decides to implement free bus ride for women, it is not fair for the conductor and driver to be rude to the women passengers. It’s not their money. They are paid a salary for their work,” said Lalitha Kumaramangalam, former chairperson of the National Commission for Women.
She said the government should provide some portal for online complaints on these issues, and women must come forward to raise their voices. And there must be some sort of name and shame for the conductors and drivers who insult women.
Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women Chairperson Dr Kannegi Packianathan said the department has not received any formal complaint on the issue after the free travel was implemented. “There is no need for issuing separate tickets for women and even checking is not necessary. Why should they ask questions when the government is allowing free rides for them.”
Meanwhile, senior officials at the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) - Chennai confirmed that they have been receiving complaints from women passengers. “Steps are taken immediately by enquiring with the respective conductor or driver,” an official claimed.