As had been my dream since my schooldays, I did my intermediate from a renowned college of Karachi. With public buses being my primary mode of transportation, it would take me 45 minutes each day to reach college. This marked the beginning of my experience of traveling in public transport. I found by bus rides to be quite adventurous and thrilling, albeit a little tiring due to the distance between my college and home. On some days, I was lucky enough to catch a bus on time. There were, however, times when I had to wait for as long as 30 minutes for my bus to arrive on the bus stand.
Experiencing life as a common citizen helped me in coming closer to the reality and feel what it is like to walk in the shoes of an ordinary person in our society. There were moments when I would feel proud of myself for what I considered to be a remarkable feat. Yet, there were times when my bus rides would become a source of distress and anger too, as I felt targeted by those around me just because I am a female.
It would be a sort of sudden realization for me that I was out in the world where my gender was assumed to be weak. Never before in my life did I feel so threatened about being a girl than I did while countering the countless obnoxious looks that made me conscious about my posture, body language and appearance. I was forced by my inner self to scrutinize my actions and demeanor since I know that I belong to a society that is habitual of blaming the victim for any untoward incident.
Stray gazes and hooting from men passing by became a norm whenever I would be on my way to college from the bus stop. At times, bus drivers would follow girl students around and offer them rides, although all of us understood the underlying meaning behind these ‘offers’. The thought that these men could so easily play around with our respect and reputation would make us feel helpless, frustrated and vengeful at the same time.
The worst of these incidents was one that I witnessed when I was on my way for my final examinations. It was a sight that openly revealed the ugly face of gender discrimination that exists in our society. I was heading towards college in an overcrowded bus. Anyone who has traveled in public buses before must be aware of the unfair distribution of compartments for males and females, with women literally given half the space and seating capacity that is provided to male passengers. On this particular day, the bus driver accommodated some men in the ladies cubicle since the male compartment was already filled.
I was reading a book to kill my time when suddenly I heard a lady scream in anger and disgust. I looked around and saw that she was beating a man up furiously. As shocking as the sight was, it soon caught the attention of everyone present on board. It turned out that the man resorted to touching the woman’s breasts and she caught him in the act. Although people were horrified with the woman’s extreme reaction, nobody dared to get in the middle and rescue the man.
It was perhaps a moment for that woman when she realized the strength of her character and used it to secure her dignity as a woman. Let us hope that the men in our society stop acting like scavengers at the sight of women and start treating them with the respect they deserve.