Confusion over reserved seats on public vehicles

Kathmandu
Confusion over reserved seats on public vehicles

Jul 30, 2014-

A Nepal Yatayat bus, with the number plate Ba 1 Kha 9356, leaves for its regular round trip from Pepsicola Townplanning to Balkhu and back on Wednesday afternoon. For most part of the first leg of the journey, plenty of seats on the bus are unoccupied. On the return trip, though, when the bus pulls over at a Thapathali stop, people swarm in, rushing through the narrow bus door, to take the available seats. Within minutes, the passengers cram the bus. Even the aisle is full of people.  

Three men are sitting on the seats reserved for women. Three women are standing on the aisle. None of the women ask the men to get up and let them sit. None of the men offer. And neither the conductor nor the driver says anything to the men. Police are not in sight to monitor and intervene.

Most think that preferential treatment is given to women in public vehciles because females are physically weaker than males. None consider it a token of positive discrimination used to alleviate the existing gender inequality.   

One of the standing women, 18-year-old Priyanka Thapa, does not ask for the seat because she has never seen anyone do that.

Another of the women, the one in her mid-20s, had once asked a man on another bus, but when he refused to vacate the seat for her, she lost the courage to make such a request for good. The third woman, in her late 30s, wearing a white shirt and black pants, finds having to ask a man to get up embarrassing. “If the man gives up the seat on his own, I will take it. But I am not going to demand it as if I am weak and cannot stand up,” says the third woman, preferring to remain anonymous.

But Jitendra Shrestha, sitting on a seat reserved for women, says that he will get up if a woman asks him to, and not before.

Except for one young man who sees the writing on the wall and moves on to a non-woman seat, every passenger on the bus is confused about how to react to the label: Mahila seat (1/2), (3/4).

Twenty-year-old Himali Tamang does not even think she is a ‘mahila’, as she is young and robust. Like most passengers, Tamang, too, does not believe that the seats are reserved for the protection of younger women.

According to a 2013 World Bank report on gender and transport in the Valley, 43 percent of the women in the age group 19-25 dread ‘inappropriate touching’ in public vehicles. “I don’t believe sexual harassment has anything to do with seat reservations,” says Tamang.

Twenty-three-year old   Sharad Ojha believes the same. “I’m not clear about the rationale behind the reservation, but it can’t be sexual harassment. I walked away from the women-only seat because I find it ethically wrong to sit when the warning says not to,” says Ojha.

According to Motor Vehicles and Transport Management Act, 1993, passenger-heavy vehicles on local routes should reserve two seats for women. But the reservation came into force only after the promulgation of the Interim Constitution in 2007, when the voices of inclusion and gender equality were loud.

The implementation, as evidenced by the bus ride, however, is poor. As a result, everyone is caught in a vicious cycle of waiting for someone else to take the initiative. Women are tired of asking for the seats and want the men to give them up themselves. Men wait for the women to ask. Conductors and bus drivers ask men to vacate the seats only when the police are actively checking for breaches of the law.

“I used to ask men to leave the women-only seats unoccupied. They found it humiliating and told me to stop. Some got angry and told me that I had no right to teach them decency. And there were others who threatened to beat me up. I think women should just ask the men to get up,” says the 18-year-old conductor.

Published: 31-07-2014 09:12

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