Home Opinion Harassment in public transport: What can be done?  

Harassment in public transport: What can be done?  

15 min read

By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya

When I left office at 5pm somewhere during mid-May, I was more than just annoyed and angry to find that it was raining. The walk to the bus stand usually took me around five to ten minutes and so I thought I’ll just hope for the best and walk. A few seconds into walking towards the bus halt, a strong gush of wind turned my umbrella the other way around and there was no way I wanted to risk walking to the bus halt. Making the situation worse was the fact that I was carrying two heavy bags.

A three wheeler stopped near me and the driver gestured for me to get in. I was desparate and so I got in. I told him I just wanted to get to a bus halt on Duplication Road and that I would pay him Rs. 100 because it was a short distance. Then it started raining harder and I remembered how packed outstation buses get. The wise thing to do would be to go to Fort and get into an AC bus. So I told the driver to take me to Fort and we agreed on Rs. 250 for the hire. Of course, his meter was switched off and I was in no mood to ask him questions.

Then he began talking with me. He asked if I lived in Panadura (I had told him I needed to get into a bus headed to Panadura), whether I always left office at this time and that a staff transport service would be a safer option, especially during these weather conditions. I gave him short answers and I got my bags closer to me. I was getting nervous and worried.

It was raining, I had quite a bit of money in my purse, I was carrying two heavy bags and I was wearing a knee-length dress. I kept thinking of all the ways I could escape this situation. Since we were close to the Colpetty Junction, I told him to drop me at the Liberty Plaza bus halt instead. He asked me a few more questions, spoke about the weather and said I mayn’t get a seat and will have to stand right until Panadura. Thankfully, we got to the bus halt, I paid him and got down.

While waiting for a bus, I began to wonder. What if the three-wheeler driver was asking all those questions because he was concerned about me? What if his intentions weren’t bad? What if I was merely generalizing and thinking that no question asked is with good intentions and physical contact made is accidental or unintentional?”

Fear and suspicion aren’t emotions that we like feeling, and yet, thanks to our past experiences, we always have our guard up when in public transport like buses and trains. As soon as someone sits next to us, we begin to worry. Will they try to talk with me? Will they try to touch me? Is he/she standing too close to me or am I just overreacting?

We shouldn’t have to feel this way. We shouldn’t have to always question a person’s motive or intentions. We shouldn’t always have to expect the worst. And yet, we do. And we do so because other people have given us reason to. We are constantly worried about our safety because we have all faced situations where we have been harassed in one way or another.

This seemed like a topic that anyone and everyone can talk about. And so the Night Owls team gathered thoughts and opinions from people to see what they had to say about the topic.

First of all, we looked at the sex of the person. Was the person sharing their experience male or female. The reason for this was an attempt at breaking stereotypes. We tend to believe that it’s a men vs. women world. However, males too, face harassment and 34.5 percent of those who answered the survey were males.

We then asked them what kind of harassment they had faced.

What kind of harassment have you faced?

 What kind of harassment have you faced

What was your response?

 What was your response

How we react to an incident of harassment differs. Some people can stand up against the wrongdoer and take action against them vocally or physically. Some of us, however, resort to more passive methods like changing seats or moving away from the wrongdoer. This isn’t a weakness, but just goes on to show how defenseless we are sometimes. This is made further clear by the number of people who said the reaction of the other passengers in the bus was to ignore the incident (65.5 percent).

What was the reaction of the others in the bus?

 What was the reaction of others in the bus

Have you used anything to defend yourself?

Have you used anything to defend yourself

We also asked people to share their thoughts on using methods to defend oneself and also about harassment in public transport. Below are a few thoughts shared with us:

Do you think methods of self-defense should be used? Why?

“Yes, because others do not come to your defense and if you do nothing you must suffer in silence”

“I shouldn’t have to, but I did because there’s no other way to keep them physically away”

“Yeah, I think they should be used as most of the people in the present society do not fear our voice against them. They should know that we have our own safety tools if they are going to cross boundaries.”

“No. There should be a way to make a complaint to the conductor and conductors should be given instructions on how to deal with them.”

“Pepper spray would be ideal if it was available here – it doesn’t cause any major damage and causes enough of a distraction to move away. There’s no need to use objects which could permanently harm someone – even if they are a pervert!”

“Hurting them physically is a quick and effective method of making it stop immediately, but not permanently. It could even provoke them into worse forms of harassment.”

 Do you think such methods should be used

What solutions do you propose to prevent harassment in public transport?

Comment 3

“A special police unit to make complaints to

Creating a public prescription that any form of harassment should not be tolerated or suffered in silence Educating bus drivers and conductors on what action to take when such an incident happens”

“Sometimes the bus/train is so packed you don’t know if you’re being harassed or just people not having enough space. I think the first step is to not allow conductors to jam pack the bus/train.Comment 1

“Provide awareness regarding the kinds of harassment that can take place in public transport, encourage victims to seek help rather than keeping silent. And also encourage others to provide help to another if they see someone getting harassed rather than staring at it or ignoring.”

“1.There should be more buses in frequent intervals that the buses will be less crowded and personal space will not be violated 2. Conductors should be instructed on what to do in order to prevent harassment”

Comment 2

“Public should be made aware that speaking up and acting against harassment is ok. Right now, harassment is seen as part of the daily routine when traveling by public transport. It shouldn’t be.”



“It’s a terrible topic to be spoken of. Dominance of men empowers them to behave unnecessarily over women. It cannot be changed and gender equality cannot be achieved. The best thing for women is to learn some martial art for their self-defense. Never be afraid to speak up for yourself.”

Comment 6

“There are a lot boys who get harassed in buses yet don’t speak up. Harassing men is equally bad as women being harassed.”

“It would be nice if children could learn the do’s and don’ts at an early age (I know this can be difficult though).”

“Authorities have also not been proactive enough when tackling harassment on public transport. They make some statements and go for knee-jerk reactions when an incident becomes publicized. This attitude should change.”

“Make the person who harasses another person in public transport pay a fine or make that person attend a mandatory disciplinary class.”

“Public harassment is an issue that exists not only in Sri Lanka but almost every country. If public harassment can be stopped, I think that it would be a great achievement for us as a country.”

Comment 4

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