(Please note: This is my weekly column that was published in The Goan on Saturday)
Public transport happens to be the most convenient way of travelling in a chaotic city like Mumbai. And like any other day, it was around 9 pm when I took a bus from Andheri station last week. One by one, everyone entered the bus from the second door and chose their seats. I mounted the bus, but until then there was no vacant place left. When the bus halted at the signal, a pregnant woman entered the bus from the front door. She definitely assumed that someone would actually release their spot for her. Unfortunately, no one did until she asked a lady. No, that lady didn’t do so, but a man from the senior citizen section gave up his seat instead. My point? In the last five years that I’ve lived in Mumbai, I’ve realized that people care very little about who you are or where you’re coming from.
Although this happens once in a while, women have 12 reserved seats in all B.E.S.T buses. Plus there are ladies’ special trains and buses at specific timings every morning and evening. And this is taken very, very seriously. No man can enter these trains or buses. No man can also occupy a Striyansathi seat in a bus. There are times when men let go of an empty place, but it’s never occupied as it has Striyansathi inked on the reverse.
Sometimes, I wonder if we need to have such reservations for women. What do we gain? Does this make us equal to men? But, do we want to be equal to men? Then why do we have reservations? Then again, if we don’t have these reserved seats, we may never get to sit in a bus.
Last April, when I visited Goa, I was travelling by bus to Margao. I boarded a local, got a seat and waited for my stop to approach. Within no time all the seats were occupied including the ladies’ seats. Oh yes, we’ve always seen those reserved seats for women, senior citizens and physically challenged persons in every bus. But I’ve never seen the right persons occupy them. So that evening, an elderly lady mounted the bus at Chinchinim, and the senior citizen’s seat was occupied by a teenager. She spared the old lady a glance and reverted to staring outside the window. I gave up my seat, and everyone stared at me as if I had committed a crime that could not be forgiven under any circumstances.
Why do buses in Goa even have those reserved seats if it’s not taken seriously? It’s about time, we start paying heed to such nitty gritties. If not, such reservations would be barren and unproductive.