Kerala State Transport bus employees fight with women and two infants to stop them from boarding a bus so that the Ayyappan pilgrims on the bus will not be polluted
By Team FI
A Kerala State transport bus driver in a bid to maintain the ‘purity’ levels on a state bus allegedly reserved for pilgrims bound for Sabarimala, denied entry to two women and children last Wednesday night.
The incident occurred when Naseera, a media person, her two children and her mother in law tried to board a bus that runs on a particular route that would go by their house. They were told by KSRTC employees that the bus was reserved for Ayyappans (as Sabarimala pilgrims are popularly called). Sabarimala is a popular South Indian Hindu shrine where women between the age-group of 10-50 are considered impure since they menstruated and therefore not allowed entry.
The KSRTC employees were at first concerned that the Ayyappans would react unfavourably and may even the leave the bus if they saw the women. While the said Ayyappans neither objected to the presence of the family nor staged a walkout, the bus driver and conductor decided to take up their cause and reacted aggressively towards the family. The bus driver stated that, “the Ayyappans have to maintain ‘purity’ and as they cannot be certain of how ‘pure’ we are, he insisted we leave the bus. Other KSRTC employees who were in the bus also spoke to us rudely,” writes Naseera.
Naseera has lodged a complaint against KSRTC at the local police station and intends to approach the National Commission for Women. So far the response from local authorities has been to the effect that the matter is a ‘petty’ case and therefore will not be taken seriously. Naseera however states that, “In my understanding, vehicles have been allotted for those traveling to Pamba, not specially for Ayyappa devotees. If there is no rule that mentions such a clause, then the act of denying us seats to travel in the bus, is illegal and violation of human rights granted by the constitution.”
Even as the petition is being circulated, a few women who planned to travel by the Pamba bus yesterday – Divya Blakkpepper, Hasna, Jenny, Adv Nandini – have been taken into custody at Ernakulam Women’s Police Station. The police have not given any reasons so far for the detainment.
Presenting the English translation of the petition written by Naseera. Translation by Aswathy Senan.
I am Naseera.
I was returning from Thiruvananthapuram on 17-12-14 in Vanchinaad Express after some work with my family. I work in the media. We reached Ernakulam South railway station past 10.45 pm. As my house is near Vyttilla,I have to board a bus that goes to Pamba and get down at Hub. I asked a KSRTC employee about the bus to Pamba that was stationed at the bus stop (KL 15, A88, RSC 517 Pamba-Erumeli). I inquired when it would leave the bus stop and whether it will halt at Hub. But my questions were not answered properly.
They told me that the bus is reserved for Ayyappans (Ayyappa devotees going to Sabarimala) and outsiders shall not be allowed into this bus. Opposing this, Subin’s mother (Shobha, 52) and me along with my two kids–two and half years and seven months old–entered the bus. But the bus driver questioned our action stating that women cannot enter the bus and that the Ayyappans in the bus will leave seeing us. However, the Ayyappans did not seem to be bothered by our presence, nor did they ask us to leave the bus. The driver added that the Ayyappans have to maintain ‘purity’ and as they cannot be certain of how ‘pure’ we are, he insisted we leave the bus. Other KSRTC employees who were in the bus also spoke to us rudely.
The driver along with the other KSRTC employees shouted at us in front of the other travellers: “Are you from America?”, “Can’t you understand what we are saying?”, “ You need to leave the bus”,“The bus won’t start with you, Leave without making any fuss”. They continued verbally harassing us. Scared that the aggressive men might attack us, we left the bus and headed to the Railway Protection Force Station to lodge a complaint. But they denied to register a case saying that the incident happened outside their premises and that we need to contact Police Aid post instead.
When a policeman from the Police Aid Post interrogated the employees at the bus stop, the conductor said that the bus has been allotted for the Ayyapans and even if we are allowed entry into the bus, we will have to travel standing the whole distance. When I inquired about the seats reserved for women, women with kids and the elderly, the conductor retorted that the Ayyapans have reserved all the seats and that their comfort cannot be compromised. The policeman from the Police Aid Post seemed satisfied with that reply. The conductor repeated that we can travel in the bus, if we are willing to stand and travel all the way through. All this while, the Ayyappa devotees in the bus neither said anything nor behaved badly towards us. They silently sat there without intervening. The conductor even said that he is not against my mother-in-law boarding the bus; the issue is with me. Unlike my mother-in-law I am still in the menstruating age. But I argued that the devotees would have travelled with other women during their journey till that point and if they didn’t have an issue until now, how can my presence defile them? But he was not willing to listen to all this and insisted that I leave without making a ruckus.
When I pointed out that it is illegal to let men occupy the seats reserved for women when women are present, the conductor said that what he said is the present rule and that he won’t let me sit in the bus. The policeman also said that there could be a rule like that and what the conductor said might be true. He did not pay any heed to my argument that there is no such rule and did not help us board the bus. We got down the bus since we were not ready to stand and travel,when legally we are eligible for reserved seats.
The Policeman at the Aid Post’s act supported the act of the KSRTC employee who denied our constitutional rights of travel and free movement. Since the police system is responsible for my safety, I demanded that they take me home. When I called the Women’s Station, they replied that the SI is out of station and that they shall call back with more information. I called after waiting for 45 minutes, but they replied that the vehicle is occupied and shall take time to get free. By then, the time was 1 am. But, until now, no one has called me back or inquired about my state from the Women’s Station. The Women’s Station that should work especially for the security of women acted in a totally irresponsible manner. When I reached home in the jeep provided by the Central Police Station, time was almost 2 am.
When schemes such as Nirbhaya and Bhoomika exist, the Women’s station that should work for the safety of women, aimed at reducing the atrocities bestowed upon them. On the contrary, the treatment we got was as described above which raises questions about the requirements of such schemes. In my understanding, vehicles have been allotted for those travelling to Pamba, not specially for Ayyappa devotees. if there is no rule that mentions such a clause, then the act of denying us seats to travel in the bus, is illegal and violation of human rights granted by the constitution.
I have submitted my petition to CI Francis Selvi of Ernakulam Central Station (Petition No: 173573/2014) on 18/12/2014 in person. But he replied that this was a petty case which will not be taken seriously. He could identify only such minor issues like denying seats in the bus and improper behaviour. But this instance is an example of the failure of those administrative systems which has to ensure that women are granted the security that constitution grants. It was only because of our gender that we were denied seats in the bus and compelled to leave the bus. Such misogynistic attitude taken by public transport system is highly deplorable and unconstitutional and a gross violation of fundamental rights.