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Harassment on public transport in Sri Lanka

| by Zahrah Imtiaz

( December 11, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A crowded bus in Sri Lanka is not the most pleasant place to be, and if the masses of bodies and intense smells of body odour and sweat are not enough, you get to meet the ever present ‘bus pervert’ who accompanies you on your trip on the bus. Many are subjected to harassment on our buses, be it physical, sexual or mental and many bear with it and let it go as part and parcel of Sri Lankan public transport. A short survey on social media revealed some interesting insights into the issue.

Sabry says, “Don’t take the bus!”, which is easier said than done for many who cannot afford private transport, so Thalib steps in with “we need capital punishment to deal with perverts on the bus”.

Dilhani on the other hand highlights the main reason behind such attacks with, “most of the time, the culprits get away with it and the victims are too scared or embarrassed to talk about it” and Thilini says it is because, “It has come to a point where people have gotten used to it and they turn a blind eye to the issue. Women who suffer such punishment should not keep quiet about it.”

Shifan blames the culprits by saying, “it is a cowardly act done by insecure losers who have no shame or dignity and have very little to lose in life”

On the other hand, Mifzan recommends the use of ‘pepper spray’ to ward off potential aggressors and, “In Dubai there was a time when buses had segregated sections for gents/ladies”. However as Sri Lanka cannot practice the ways of the Middle East, a better solution would be to learn to engage with the opposite sex in a respectful manner. How this would become a reality, is left to be seen.

In the event that nothing can be done to stop such behaviour, Dinesh Aaryan Kanagaratnam prescribes a more serious course of action by “bashing the pervert to death”.

Azra Imtiaz recalls a situation when her aunty was assaulted on the bus when a young man came up to her and started rubbing his crotch on her shoulder. An experience much too familiar to women on the bus.

She says that in such situations “on the spot embarrassment” is the best medicine, as people commonly fear public embarrassment more than any illness in the world.

Hirunda Kanaharaarachichi says there is a bigger picture here which many people keep missing.

“Why is this so common and come to a point where it is commonly accepted? And why is this not seen in other countries as much as Lanka? I believe that prohibition enforced by Sri Lankan culture is directly associated with this kind of behaviour. Most of the people are sexually frustrated. They don't have an accepted mode to let out some of their raw human emotions. We have been taught to suppress any sort of vulgar thoughts as much as we can by society and it all plays up when people in a crowded bus, pushed against each other.”

Nadeera too echoes Hirunda’s views when she says, “Bus perversity and sexual harassment is a prime example of how sexually frustrated our country is. Because it is the underlying problem that no one in this country wants to address.”

Men being sexually frustrated, some say it has fallen on the woman to not provoke his animalistic tendencies.

Anupama says, “The absolute worst part is the blame-the-victim mentality. If a girl wearing a short skirt gets felt up, she was asking for it because you can't expect a man to not want to touch her”

Nadeera asks victims to press charges but realizes the futility of such an attempt in our country,

“People avoid pressing charges because of the sheer waste of time in getting anything through our justice system. Another reason to avoid pressing charges is that the victim is re-traumatized through the process. Your credibility may unfortunately depend on what you wear or how you act or what proportions of skin you're showing.”

Speaking of skirts, Huriyyah proclaims her disgust at what some men can find attractive,

“Forget short skirts. A friend of mine was returning home after Basketball practice, all muddy and dirty in her basket ball kit and she was felt up! Seriously? SERIOUSLY? All sweaty and grimy and men still want all that?”

Nushara and Vijitha fear for the safety of commuters who cannot stand up for themselves,

Nushara says, “It is kind of scary to think about these things happening in a main public transportation system in our country. People are getting molested in broad daylight and it throws an interesting light on our social values”

Vijitha adds, “I have noticed that if a girl protests out aloud, another girl will come to her aid but very few guys would do so. I wonder, if any of their sisters or wives experiences the same thing, if they would show such nonchalant behaviour. Sometimes even the conductors behave badly and say odd things.”

Aanya is nostalgic of the past but hopes for the future when she says, “Safety when using public transport has rapidly declined. The days when our parents were young and used this mode of transport in a very carefree manner is now gone. The fault clearly lies with the ones who are sexually frustrated and are unable to control oneself even for a ride in public. This will be hard to mitigate if we cannot reach those who cannot contain themselves but we can start creating awareness among females who are likely to be victimized.”

Whether it is sexual frustration on the part of men or rigid hypocrisy on the part of our society, the problem of harassment should not be tolerated.

Madhu who has experienced harassment on the bus says, “A person needs to react to the incident and protest against it when it happens. Women especially should speak up. Men think that they will get away with such behaviour because the women would be too ashamed to speak up when such things happen. I recommend that you either scold or hit them if it happens to you. In such a public scenario, it also forces other men to rethink their behaviour and it motivates other women to stand up against such abuse.”

If the subject of harassment has angered those who have been victims of such treatment on buses, Sarath advises caution and to not let your temper do the talking next time you are on a bus. He says, “at times you cannot really be sure if men and women do such things intentionally or unintentionally. This makes it harder for a person in a crowded bus to react; I do not want to accuse someone of an offense he/she might not have committed.”

Vikum adds another dimension to the story by saying that not all those who travel on the bus are perverted and that people should not be quick to judge. He says, “Some people believe that most people in Sri Lankan buses are perverted. The best example of this, is when some women who stare at every single man in the bus as if they are all guilty of wanting to assault them. I myself have experienced this and so, we also need to change their attitude”.

Finally it was surprising to know that it was not only men, certain women too were using a crowded bus to pick on good looking (or not so good looking) men. Recounting his experiences, a source who wished to remain unnamed said, “Do not always go blaming the men, men too are victims of this kind of behaviour. Believe it or not, when I was young a certain woman on the bus used the crowded scenario to come close to me.” The source later revealed that this experience was not at all a harrowing one for him.

The article originally was published by the Ceylon Today, Please click here , those who like to share their views on this piece 

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