Perhaps never before did people who take the last bus home seem so joyful and full of life as the group that boarded the last buses on the night of 7 February 2013 in the spirit to 'reclaim the night' through songs, music, poetry and art.
As the mainstream media slowly moves on and away from the infamous Delhi Bus gang-rape, several people in the capital took the last five buses from Shivaji Stadium terminus to several destinations, clapping and singing as the night went along.
Where protests and public outrage in India are often exhibited through damaging public property, of which burning or vandalising buses is the most common, this protest was about reclaiming public transport and the city, and embracing the night without the fear that comes with it. The idea of this public gathering was put together by Jan Natya Manch, Jan Sanskriti, Act One, Janwadi Lekhak Sangh and Bangla Manch.
The Shivaji Stadium terminus is among the busiest bus terminals in Delhi but surprisingly, the last buses from there leave at 9.30 in the evening. A group of performers boarded each of these buses as members of public cheered along with poetic verses and revolutionary as well as English and Bollywood songs.
“It is basically an action to take the last bus home. The idea being that the city has to be safe for people. We have to reclaim public transport, the city and the night, and turn the last bus into a joyous ride back home,” said one of the organizers, Sudhanva Deshpande, Jan Natya Manch.
Apart from the unusual singing, strumming of guitars, clapping and new friendships being formed on the DTC buses, the rest was usual. The bus conductors went about their usual task of ticketing the passengers. Yogesh Vashist, a conductor on Bus No. 620, said that not many women travel in his bus at night. Only a couple of girls board the last bus from India Gate and get down at Teen Murti Bhavan. He believed that the city and its buses are unsafe for women, and that a protest like this gives people an opportunity to raise their voices. The unusual bus ride also helped people interact with co-passengers and brought them closer to each other which was apparent from exchange of goodbyes as some de-boarded at their destinations.
On Bus No. 910 where passengers did not know about the programme, showed interest in learning what the organizers were doing, and clapped on during the poetry recitations by Moloyashree Hashmi, Sudhanva Deshpande and Komita Dhanda of Jan Natya Manch. The event was organized on a Facebook page titled '9.30 ki aakhiri bus' (the last bus at 9.30) which gathered a lot of attention among the youth who showed up at the terminal to be part of this unusual rally.
'Reclaim the night' was a form of rally in order to protest gender-based violence in the backdrop of the recent Delhi bus gang-rape but more so, it was against the patriarchial mindsets prevalent in the society, against the 'curfew' placed on girls after certain hours of the day. The programme was a subtle declaration that girls would walk on the streets and take the public transport even at 'odd hours' and that it would be the responsibility of the government to provide safety.
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