Kathmandu: Sexual harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of abuse in public transportation. A few victims choose to speak up, but many victims, especially women, suffer in silence. Even though most public vehicles have reserved seats for women, it is not enough to stop sexual harassment in public transport.
Here are some excerpts from the experience a few female commuters shared with NL Today:
Even if I had spoken up, I would have been shown in a bad light: Aanya
Even as a kid, we faced many subtle forms of sexual abuse such as staring. And then there come people touching you inappropriately and catcalling. And when you confront them, they blow you off by saying you are not pretty enough to be catcalled.
This is an incident that happened to me recently. I was traveling on a bus with no seats available. And suddenly, I feel him groping me from behind. There was an elderly man in his 70s, asking me to give him my bag because I was standing, but I could not ignore the fact that he was groping me. Also, there was this other incident I faced recently, I finally got a seat while returning home, and this man was standing beside me, with his crotch slammed against my cheek. Sometimes I genuinely have trouble differentiating if it is an intentional or an accidental act.
People around us always see things, they know when something is going wrong, but they want to avoid it as much as possible. Some people are supportive, yet that is not enough to stop sexual abuse as it is almost a daily occurrence in metropolises and even in other small towns.
I could not do anything: Barsha
I feel sad to say this, but I have gone through a lot of harassment on a public bus. One incident I particularly recall because that has left lifetime scars in my mind. The bus I was traveling in was jam-packed so I had to stand. A man was standing behind me, very close. I couldn’t ask him to move because I knew I would be told there was no space at all. To make things even worse, his private part was touching my body; I could not do anything because I did not know what to do. I was just a 14-year-old girl then. And the worst part was, people saw that happening, but they chose to avoid it.
Not all people around you come forward to help you, and may be for the same reason many victims of sexual harassment in public transport choose to let go of the bitter experience and move on. This silence of the victims encourages the abusers for even severe form of harassment the next time making public vehicles less safe for females. Even scarier picture of the public transport is that staring inappropriately, groping and touching sensitive parts have become so common and victims prefer to avoid.
No one even noticed what happened: Aaradhya
Sexual harassment in public vehicles is so common yet victims prefer to remain silent. If you ask any girl who uses a shared vehicle, almost all girls will say that have experienced one or the other form of sexual harassment in a shared vehicle. And, sometimes, abuser is so subtle and quick that people around you don’t even notice that you are being harassed. I have experienced a similar incident myself.
I was in a micro, and the seats were limited, so I adjusted myself as a third person on a two-person seat. The person next to me was sitting in a way that his elbow touched my chest; I tried shifting further, but he still managed to touch me in the same manner. Finally, I decided to stand up till I reached my destination. As soon as I stood up, he kept his hands to himself. The abuse I faced was so subtle that no one around me noticed. Forms of harassment such grabbing, groping, and humping have been so normalized that it is horrifying.
These narrations are more than enough to paint a bleak picture of public transport in terms of safety for women and girls.
143 cases of sexual abuses in one month
According to the data with the Nepal Police, from 10 December 2020 to 13 January 2021, a total of 102 cases of harassment were registered with Metropolitan Police Office, Ranipokhari, among which 83 people were handed over to guardians and three cases were filed against nine people.
Within this period, the total number of cases registered across the country was 143.
These data and victim’s testimonies clearly show that sexual harassment in public transportation is rampant but the government efforts are not enough or least effective in making public transport safe for women and girls.
Government fails to take concrete steps
On asked what the government is doing to address the problems faced by females in public places and public transport, the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens stated that they had not yet taken any significant step to control various forms of abuse in public transportation.
“Though, we had put up some digital display boards at public places, including Sajha Yatayat and Tribhuvan International Airport, flashing warnings and rules to be followed while traveling in public vehicles.
But we had to remove those boards after the government imposed lockdown last year,” said an official at the ministry, admitting that keeping digital boards alone would not ensure the safety of girls and women in public vehicles.
(Names in the story have been changed respecting the privacy of victims.)