If there’s one thing that an urban working class connects to – especially in Mumbai – is the trouble to find an auto rickshaw. By the blessings of the Gods, and grace of auto drivers, there is a solution to this problem that has a high utility value – the share rickshaw.
Outside every railway station, bus stand or a significant landmark – there are share autos available for the people to avail. At nominal rates, one can reach home by saving time instead of running after rickshaw drivers whose ginormous attitude problems would make the Kardashians’ nakhras look cute. And perhaps that’s where the phrase “Bhaiya Dubai chaloge kya” must have been coined by an angry commuter.
So share autos are an efficient way to travel. However, are they really safe? It is not really as much about being cost effective, as it is about safety, specially of women. Yes, the sheer affordability makes an auto rickshaw all-accessible, but there has never been guarantee of safety travelling in it. There has always been a menace of sexual predators in public places, and auto rickshaws have not been spared from sharing horror stories of sexual offenders molesting and harassing them.
“SAT WITH LEGS SPREAD AND GRABBED ME”
We spoke to a few women around and here’s what they had to say about some terrible incidences that they shall remember for life. Ananya (name changed on request) was one day travelling from kandivali station to east.”I did not realize that there was a drunk man in front of me. I was busy in my phone and sat down in the auto between me as he and another older man sat on the either side. As the auto started, he started leaning on me, and sat with his legs spread wide, leaving very little space for me to even fit in the auto. When I looked at him with contempt and pushed him away, he pretended to shift a little and be sleepy. I assumed it as an honest mistake. A minute later, he leaned again, as his elbow began to brush my chest and stomach. My stomach sank and I yelled at him to sit properly. He gave me a look of indifference and moved away. Another minute later the auto rickshaw haulted on a signal, and under the pretext of ‘falling’ due to the impact, he straight up fell on me, and grabbed my thigh. That was when I yelled loudly for even the auto driver to feel guilty that he should go do this to his mother or sister and got out of the rickshaw without paying. He had the gall to smile at me as I looked back him before running halfway back home,” she shared.
“KEPT ADJUSTING HIS CROTCH WHILE TRYING TO TOUCH ME”
Bhakti (name changed on request) had a similar incident, but during broad daylight. She was travelling to work in Bandra, when a man somewhere around in mid-forties, dressed in a proper shirt sat beside me to reach the complex where my office is. On the way, he kept his hand on the seat behind me, so as to give me space to fit in. Initially I felt that as a nice gesture. But as the rickshaw moved ahead, his hand kept dropping down to touch my breasts. On top of that he kept on adjusting his crotch and touching jis trousers between his legs. It was so disgusting. I asked the rickshaw driver to stop. Fortunately, the driver stopped and asked this man to get off, or he would call the police. The man simply looked at me like I was the one who did something wrong, and left,” she said.
“HE TRIED CLINGING TO ME ALL THE WAY’
Neha, another girl went to meet her friends. “I sat in the rickshaw and this other man came in and told the driver to leave because he was getting late. The man sat next to me as if there was not space on other side. I began to move towards the edge, and he kept shifting. He did not touch me or anything but I was too scared to say anything as I was about 14 back then and not knowing how to deal with such men. The entire journey was dreadful but I managed to reach the place and darted out of the auto,” she said.
According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra , as of January 1, 2018, the number of the three-wheeled vehicles saw an increase while two-wheelers and cars, surprisingly, only registered a moderate rise. The total number of vehicles in Mumbai stands at 31 lakh. Not all share autos have such incidences, but every woman must have had at least one such disturbing occurrence. Perhaps there is no solid way to safety in a mode of transport so frequent and abundant, but all one can do is stay alert, and hope that the drivers and co passengers would help the person out of a situation of assault.