Tickets free, but bus rides now cost TN women their dignity
On August 28, a 65-year-old woman was forced to alight from a government bus plying from Alangulam to Ambasamudram by the driver, reportedly because she wasn’t wearing a mask.
TENKASI: On August 28, a 65-year-old woman was forced to alight from a government bus plying from Alangulam to Ambasamudram by the driver, reportedly because she wasn’t wearing a mask. Looking at the elderly woman he had just sent out under the scorching sun in the middle of nowhere, the driver smirked, “Now that you are saving so much money by not paying for bus rides, why can’t you buy a mask?”
With more such reports of sneering and discrimination surfacing, it is becoming apparent that several drivers and conductors, who missed the bus to lessons on respect, have not been making the State government’s announcement of free bus rides for women the empowering step forward it was supposed to be.
Most incidents of discrimination were reported from rural parts of the State. Last month, a bus driver with the TN State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) in Tirunelveli was suspended after he tried to beat a woman passenger with his footwear in Kuthapanchan village. Reportedly, the driver and the woman got into an argument over him not waiting for a woman who was availing free ride. Women from Irudhayapuram village in the district allege some drivers don’t stop the buses if they see women at bus stops.
“I work in a non-banking financial company and regularly travel from Alangulam to Ambasamudram to reach my office. Though the State government’s intention to introduce the scheme is much appreciated, we benefit from it at the cost of our self-respect. Few conductors who used to converse with us joyfully don’t even smile nowadays. They get angry whenever many women board the bus together,” said Kalaiyarasi, a woman passenger.
Not without its benefits
For daily wage labourers, the government scheme has come as a boon. Kannammal, a farm hand from Kovilkulam in Tirunelveli district, said she travels 16 km daily to reach a farm in Kalathimadam village of Tenkasi district for work.
“Since June, I have saved about Rs 1,550 through the free ride scheme. I spent a portion of this money to purchase a second-hand bicycle for my son. With the rest, I bought vegetables, groceries and other household goods,” she added.
Vendors who have shops near bus stands in Tenkasi, Kadayam and Alangulam, told TNIE the number of women who come to board buses has increased after the scheme’s introduction, and this in turn has boosted their sales too.
When contacted, a senior TNSTC official who insisted on anonymity told TNIE 56.75 lakh women have availed benefits of the free ride scheme in Tirunelveli, Tenkasi and Thoothukudi districts in the first 100 days. “We will initiate action against drivers and conductors if they misbehave with women,” he added.