Rashmi Bachani: Not Giving Up
Why did you start a petition on Change.org?
I was groped by a bus driver whilst I was asleep. Apparently a single woman travelling alone equals easy prey and is “up for grabs” so to speak. I was travelling on an overnight bus I had booked through redBus. In the morning when the bus reached the bus stand I was asleep. Suddenly I felt a pinch on my breast, I woke up with a jolt. The driver was there, he said “last stop madam”. I was in a combined state of sleep & shock, picked up my bags and walked out, without saying anything.
I wrote to both the bus operator and redBus about the incident but neither responded. I even went to the police, they identified the bus driver and beat him up. I’ve never been a fan of violence and I knew that this would not solve the bigger problem of making public spaces and facilities safer for women in the future.
I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on women’s safety. It was not about punishing the guilty as much as making sure women in the future would have a safer journey. That is why I started the petition asking redBus to commit to safety measures for female passengers.
Did you think that so many people would support you?
When I started the petition, I was worried about how I was going to get the first 10 supporters even! The petition grew to just under 1.5 lakh people, that was unbelievable. I knew a lot of women face same problems everyday, I’m yet to come across a woman who hasn’t faced some sort of sexual harassment before. But, they’re generally hesitant to talk about it, as we Indian women have been conditioned to hide away anything negative rather than fight it. I honestly never expected it to gather the reach and support it did.
Can you describe some of the key steps you took in your campaign?
Soon after I started the petition on Change.org redBus responded to my petition. This first response wasn’t a victory, it was just an acknowledgement. It did not address any items I had raised, it merely stated the practices they already have been undertaking for the last few years.
My petition asked for a change, an upheaval of the existing systems. To bring to light problems we face that go unnoticed. I knew I had some valid points and I wanted to get these across, so I decided to take the petition ahead.
As the petition kept gaining support, the petition got covered by many newspapers. Some of them reached out to redBus directly putting more pressure on redBus to address my concerns. Eventually I reached out to redBus and arranged a meeting.
I scanned all the comments that had been left on the petition and the stories that other women had shared with me. I took these comments with me to show redBus that harassment is not just a one-off case and that it requires to be addressed.
I met with the redBus team and we had a fairly open discussion on all the points in my petition. Their CEO was sympathetic and they do wish to help solve this problem we travellers face. They are actively working with bus operators to improve services, however they face many problems as it’s such an un-organized sector. They released a blog post stating their plan of action, which is a good starting point.
Now I hope that people like you and I will hold them accountable and make sure busses are safer for women.
What would you say to people who supported your petition on Change.org?
Thanks to everyone who supported the petition, shared it with their families, and a special shout out to those women who shared their own experiences. I read each of the comments, and it’s sad to know so many people faced and kept quiet through similar incidents. To the women who’ve gone through similar ordeals – go out and speak about it. Get help. Get support. Do what you need to, to get through it.
Do you have any advice for people who use Change.org?
Be the change you want to see. Maybe a bit cliche, but it is true. If you want change to happen, go out there and make it happen. If you see something untoward around you, be it animal cruelty, garbage issues, child abuse, domestic abuse, speak about it. You never know how many others feel the same way and are waiting for the right place to voice their opinions, your petition may just help someone’s life for the better.