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18 May, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Depraved, addict drivers prowl female passengers

Wahidul Islam with Saugato Bosu
Depraved, addict drivers prowl female passengers

Female passengers are often harassed by transport workers on the country streets. The Independent approached a set of experts in the wake of recent incidents of sexual harassment of commuters, particularly women, by public transport workers. The experts have cited depravity, long and unregulated work hours, and the absence of orientation sessions on ethics by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) as some of the factors that lead to drivers and helpers stalking, raping, and even killing solitary female passengers.

The Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, a welfare platform for passengers, published a report in February, revealing that at least 21 women had been either raped or gang-raped on public transport vehicles across the country in the last 13 months.

The report also states that nine of these victims were gang-raped by the drivers and helpers of the vehicles they were travelling in.

A driver said, on condition of anonymity, that they are forced to drive for long hours on meagre pay. Sometimes they smoke cigarettes stuffed with weed to feel rejuvenated and ease the fatigue and family-related worries.

Our reporters visited several areas where transport workers spend their leisure time. During the journey across the city, many drivers were seen managing their vehicles with red and drowsy eyes. It was evident that they were too tired to behave gently with passengers.

Another driver said that he regularly takes drugs to stay fit. “Such drugs help me to drive properly. Driving in the streets of Dhaka involves a lot of trouble. I take a few drugs under peer pressure to help me to shrug off fatigue and reproach from passengers,” he added.

Helpers and conductors of city buses said that they are unaware that their behaviour could be described as sexual harassment. Some of them even said they consider it fun to talk to young women as they stay away from their wives for prolonged periods of time.

When asked about the reported

attempts by drivers and conductors to sexually harass women, particularly young women and students, the drivers and conductors denied the allegations.

Maleka Pervin, a psychology professor, said the drivers get depressed and stressed in the absence of job satisfaction and motivation. Owing to the lack of variety in their routine and the uncertainty pertaining to their job security, they lose their sincerity and ability to stay composed, she noted.

She attributed the recent spike in sexual assault and rape by bus drivers, helpers, and conductors to drug addiction and staying away from their families.

“As a consequence of poor socio-ethical orientation and moral deviation, they can’t behave well with female passengers. Rather they stalk or sexually harass female passengers out of the ‘pleasure principle’,” she noted.

Maleka parvin said the police and drivers need to organise regular counselling sessions.

Of late, social media has been rife with allegations of attempted rape and sexual harassment. Incidents have been reported by the victims almost every day and featured on Facebook pages. In spite of so many allegations, drivers and helpers have remained unrepentant and stuck to denial.

In a recent incident of sexual harassment, a girl boarded a bus on Badda Link Road to get to her university. When all the other passengers got off the bus at the Notun Bazar bus stop, the helper, conductor, and driver started to sexually assault the girl.

At one stage, the girl managed to jump off the bus. This incident took place on April 22.

On April 9, a readymade garments worker was raped by transport workers.

On August 25 last year, a 27-year-old college student was gang-raped and murdered on a moving bus travelling from Sirajganj to Mymensingh. Five people were arrested two days later. Of them, four transport workers were awarded the death penalty in a case filed for the rape and murder case.

The other accused, who was also a staff member of the bus, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Asked about the reported hike in rape and sexual harassment in public transport, Ayesha Khanom, president of the Bangladesh Mohila Parishad (BMP), said: “How do we expect good behaviour from transport workers as they come from very poor rural families without any education or morality of respecting women?”

The BMP leader, who is vocal against harassment of women by public transport workers, said such incidents are bound to happen if the drivers are not trained well before receiving driving licences from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA).

To prove her point, she referred to a remark of a powerful leader of transport workers who once said that drivers only needed to recognise cows and goats in order to drive on the roads and not road signs.

Ayesha Khanom suggested that the authorities take certain steps including imparting training to public transport operators on gender sensibilities, courtesy, and awareness of severe punishments awarded in cases of reported sexual harassment.

The women’s rights defender also said a driver’s permit should be cancelled in case any allegation is levelled against him.

Recently, a Facebook group titled “Want Security in Public Transport (Stand Against Rape, Eve-teasing)” has been created to promote public awareness in this regard. This group has been regularly updating its posts by reporting incidents of sexual harassment faced by victims.

Rakib Ahmed, the administrator of the group, told The Independent, “It’s all about morality. When we promoted our work, most drivers and helpers were helpful. They were also aware of the law.”

“However, some of the drivers and helpers are not cooperative. If the police and commuters are aware of them, they will also lend moral solidarity to our effort,” he added.

According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority Act (2017), the responsibilities of the authorities concerned include the “drafting and implementation of road safety-related planning, technical and educational activities for creating skilled drivers, and reduction of accidents by increasing awareness.”

Most transport workers, however, have never had such technical training or educational and moral orientation for years.

Preferring anonymity, a driver said they are only interested in getting their licenses. Nothing else matters to them, including the need for moral training, as they pick up and drop passengers of the opposite sex to their destinations on payment of their fares, he added.

BRTA director (road safety) Sheikh Muhammad Mahbub-E-Rabbani told The Independent that the transport regulator is aware of the recent incidents of sexual harassment in public transport. “We’re taking this issue very seriously. We’ve already discussed about the matter in several meetings. We’re thinking of taking stern action against the perpetrators,” he added.

If anyone faces any sort of sexual harassment in a vehicle, they can call 999 and ask for immediate help.

“We are thinking of raising mass awareness about this”, Rabbani said.

However, 77 per cent of drivers in the country do not have driving licenses, according to a report of the Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity.

The report says that only 16 lakh drivers, out of a total 70 lakh across the country, hold BRTA licenses.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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