A huge push literally sent me toppling down the last step of the footboard of the bus. It was with difficulty that I managed to land on my two feet at the Naidu Nagar bus-stop. Steadying myself, I turned around and gave an infuriated glare to the lady who had pushed me. A middle-aged, saree-clad woman, with oily braided hair, got down and walked off in a hurry without even sparing so much as a glance at me.
I checked my watch. 8:00 PM. It had been a very hard day. I had been working non-stop from 9:30 AM. Added to that, the crowded bus inching through the heavy traffic had ensured that I traveled no more than 10 kms in 1 hour. The comfort of my room was still 1 crowded bus and another 15 kms away.
I scanned the bus-stop. It was full of people. The crowd was more of daily wage laborers and local workers rather than the ID card clad IT crowd like myself. Cursing my boss for having kept me at work for an extra 2 hours, I removed my ID card and before placing it inside my handbag, looked at it. “Rohini Subramaniam” is read with my funny looking photo above it. Just then I saw a young man, also wearing an ID card with earphones plugged into his ears. Glad to see another person who seemed to be from my own clan, I went and stood next to him.Within a span of 10 minutes, atleast 5 buses came, all headed in different directions to my apartment. Exasperated, I checked my watch again.
“Mummy Mummy I want ice-cream” whined a little girl in a pink frock, who stood next to me, holding a middle-aged, plump, short woman’s hand. Next to them stood a man.
“No Tejaswi, No ice-cream until next week. You just recovered from cold last week. You’ll fall ill again” the plump woman commanded, but in loving tone, stroking the little girl’s head. The man agreed “Yes yes, mom’s right”
I tried hard to hold back a smile. Seeing the family, I remembered my own . I really missed my mom and dad. It had been 3 months since I last went home.
I looked away, in the direction of the arriving buses. Then, I saw a man approaching the stop. He held a stick in one hand and held another man with his other hand. The manner in which he was using his stick and walking was enough to comprehend that he was visually challenged. As I turned my gaze to the man who held his hand, I was shocked to find that he was visually challenged too. Both of them, were making way through the crowd, to the stop.
There was a bus which had stopped right infront of me, into which people were pouring in. If not warned, the duo would collide with the back side of the bus since their stick could warn them only of obstacles on the ground. I thought for a moment, whether to step forward and stop them. Then I decided against it. I didn’t want to catch attention. I just wanted to reach back home. It was already late and I had no idea what kind of people they were. We live in a society where even showing compassion might cost us heavily, my dad always used to say. Anyways, If they dared to come out by themselves, they’d probably know to take care of themselves. I concluded.
Just as I had predicted, the man who was walking ahead hit the rear end of the halted bus and came to an abrupt stop. The man with him also stopped. The man in front was clearly shaken. “Careful” he said to the other, before moving aside and scanning the ground ahead with his stick cautiously.
“Bhaiyya, Vani Nagar?” The man enquired. I realised he wanted to ask the conductor if the bus goes to Vani Vihar. But the conductor was not at the rear entrance, he was near the front entrance of the bus, speaking to the driver. The frenzy of passengers flooding into the bus pushed past the duo without sparing a Glance.
I read the bus board. But still being kind of new to the city, I had no idea if the bus was going via the place they mentioned or not. I wondered whether to ask one of the passengers or not. By the time I hesitantly considered the need for me to intervene and help, the bus started from the stop. The two were left behind as the bus sped off. I felt bad. They should have come with someone who could help them, I thought.
As I scanned my watch, which now showed 8:20pm, I felt a touch on my right elbow. With a start, I veered around. Two men were standing right behind me. I was so engrossed in the happenings of the past 15 minutes that I failed to notice the 2 people who had come up and now were standing directly behind me. As I looked at them, they looked away. Immediately, I moved a couple of steps forward and few steps to the right. Looking back to ensure I was far enough from them, I continued to look down the road, hoping desperately that a bus would come.
When a bus did finally come, which goes by my route, it was so packed that there was hardly any space to stand even on the footboard. “Vani Vihar?” I heard the blind duo ask again and no one answered their plea. The bus sped off.
Just then, on instinct I turned back, to find the very two men from the previous instance, standing right behind me again. “Hello madamji, where do you want to go” one of the 2 men asked me in a coarse voice, in some hindi dialect I couldn’t trace. He was short, lean and dark, with an overgrown beard and a devilish grin. His partner also looked at me grinning. I faked courage and moved a few steps away and pretended like they did not exist.
“ Hey pretty lady, tell us where you want to go. We’ll drop you safely. You dont even have to go by bus. We have our vehicle” the other taller man said stepping up behind me. The other grinned.
“Shut up and leave me alone” I said with all the courage I could muster and gave them what I believed to be a tough stare. Then they continued on, making lewd comments and vaguely singing songs. Desperate for some help, I looked around.
The IT guy who was looking at all these proceedings till this moment, hurriedly looked away when our eyes met for a moment. He looked down pretending to be busy with his phone. I turned around to look at the family. The father who had also seen all this, looked away from me towards his wife “Girls should not be out at this late hour alone. If they do these kinds of thing are bound to happen” he said loudly. I felt extremely angry and helpless at the same time. What would I do now?
Just then one of the visually impaired duo, stepped up and asked them “Why are you troubling the girl? Aren’t you ashamed?” I stood stunned. The other came up to us “Leave the girl alone and get lost before you get into trouble”.
The culprits, taken aback totally, looked at each other and then laughed hysterically. “Now you blind fellows will teach us what to do and what not” the short guy said. And started laughing again.
“You cannot even walk by yourself without any aid. If I were you, I would try to help myself rather than help pretty ladies out on the street” said the taller man. And in one swift motion he grabbed me by my elbow and said “let me see what you can do”.
Terrified, I shrieked and tried to free my arm.
What happened next was too incredible. The blind man, lifted his stick and in one strong move, the hit the fellow who was holding me , on his leg. “OUCH!” he yelped in pain and falling to the ground, instantly freeing my arm. The other man was outraged and shocked “How dare you . I’ll show you now, what happens if you mess with us.” he said menacingly taking steps towards us.
At that very moment, two people came up infront of the blind men. It was the IT guy and the father of that family. “Get lost or we will call the Police” the father said. Realizing that its better to leave, the short guy helped the taller one get up and both left after glaring at the blind men.
“Why are you out alone at this time? Shouldn’t you be at home” The father snapped at me. “Roaming around alone at night, inviting trouble and causing disturbance to others” he finished.
I looked at him in disbelief “Excuse me sir. I’m a working woman. And I’m going back home from office. Can you please tell me what I was doing wrong” I replied, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible though it was trembling from the shock I just had and the rage at the man’s comments.
“You are a girl. That’s what’s wrong. Girl’s should be home by this time.” he said agitated .
“ So just because I’m a girl, I don’t deserve to go back home safe at 8:30 in the night, or any time for that matter?” I asked.
“Excuse me. Its not the girl’s fault. Men shouldn’t be behaving this way and if they do we should not tolerate it. That’s the sensible thing to do rather than telling women to not go out and deprive them of their right to live their life as per their choice” interrupted the blind man who had hit the culprit.
“And you both” the father now directed his rage towards them. “What herogiri where you both doing? Fighting gundas. If we weren’t there god knows what they would have done to you. You people should at least bring 1 person who can see with you , whenever going out.” he snapped, and went back to stand with his wife who’s eyes were wide with shock and their scared daughter. The IT guy just gave me an indifferent look and went back to his smartphone, plugging in the earphones.
I looked at the blind duo. “I cant thank you enough” I said feeling each word as I said. “If it weren’t for you both I dont know what..” I said trying to maintain my composure which was threatening to give way to sobs any time now.
“There is no need to thank us, beta. We were just doing our duty.” said one of them. “And oh yes, don’t listen to them.” he said smiling “Just because you are out at this time alone doesnt mean any man has the right to mistreat you. So dont think that you are wrong. You have every single right everyone else has and deserve to live your life according to your wish without being mistreated by anyone.”
I realised they had just taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life. Everyone has the right to live as equals. Just like I had the right to be out alone and not be abused by anyone, they also had the right to be out living their lives like normal human beings. Its our responsibility to rise up and take action if this right of anyone is being denied.
Of all the fully “abled” people in that bustop, not a single one spoke out when I was being mis-treated. The ones who spoke out were the 2 visually challenged, because they believed I deserve to lead a normal life just like every other male, though I’m a girl and no one should come in the way of it. Why couldn’t I do the same? When I saw them struggling to catch a bus, why couldn’t I rise up and help them, realising that they too deserve to lead a normal life even though they are visually impaired? Why did I expect that they should have aid from a person who can see for them to be able to lead a normal life? They never expected that I should be with a male if I ought to be safe, and otherwise I deserve to be harassed. It all depended on your mindset.
When the next bus came. I ran to it “Bhaiyya Vani Vihar?” I asked the conductor “Haan madam” he said. I rushed to the duo. Held their hands and said “Come, you bus has come”. After helping them onto the bus, and ensuring that they got seats, I got down from the bus feeling content.