We’re Humiliated, Denied Reduced Bus Fares For Women, Say Trans women In Maharashtra

Every time they ask for the concessional tickets for women on state buses, trans women are asked to furnish gender and identity proof

It has been five months since the Maharashtra State Road and Transport Corporation launched its Mahila Samman Yojana that allows women a 50% concession on ticket fares on public transport buses across the state. The scheme has reportedly increased women’s mobility in the state but it has been discriminating against trans women, shows an investigation by Behanbox.

It is only after an argument with the bus crew and repeated attempts to establish their identity that trans women are being given discounted tickets, interviews show.

Disha Pinky Shaikh, a renowned trans rights activist and a poet from Maharashtra, says she is tired of having to argue her way through every single bus ride. “It is ridiculous and inhumane that we have to prove our womanhood everytime. We had to prove it to our parents first, then society, organisations, politicians, and policy makers. It’s taking a toll on my mental health now. Why are people not following the NALSA judgement?” asks Shaikh during a Facebook live event on August 19, hosted from the same state transport bus on which she was denied a discounted ticket. 

In the NALSA Judgement, the Supreme Court reiterated that state and central governments must grant transgender persons full recognition so that they can access education, healthcare, and other welfare schemes without any discrimination. 

On paper, the MSRTC scheme is for ‘all women’ but trans women are facing exclusion, we find. Maharashtra’s draft policy for women (the latest and fourth edition which still remains unpublished) recognises trans women and ensures their inclusion in welfare schemes. But as Shaikh’s experiences show this is not a policy that is being implemented. On August 15, she was denied a discounted ticket on a journey from Ahmadnagar’s Shrirampur to Aurangabad. “I had to inform the conductor about the NALSA judgement. I told him about the Bombay High Court’s judgement in the Anjali Patil case  and I had to show him all the documents, including the voting card  which mentions my gender identity as a trans woman. After all this, I was given a ticket,” she said.

With affordable tickets, the Mahila Samman Yojana has increased women’s mobility. Affordable and accessible bus travel facilitates increased economic and social freedoms for women, we reported in this story on Punjab’s free bus travel scheme. The Maharashtra scheme too has had similar impacts – it has increased women’s mobility, womenvisit administrative offices for work and interact more often with their families. Women can now use air conditioned buses, previously a luxury, with tickets available at discounted rates. These are benefits that the state’s trans women are demanding too.

‘We feel humiliated, unwelcome’

Shamibha Patil, a trans rights activist and a visiting faculty at Tata institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur, was travelling from Tuljapur in Osmanabad district to Aurngabad last month. She too was denied a ticket under the scheme. 

“I insisted that the conductor give me a discounted ticket but in vain. He asked me to get down if I could not pay the full price. Many passengers supported me but he took the bus to the nearest police station and started complaining. I called Rupali Chakankar, head of the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission. She spoke to the police and the bus conductor over the phone  and then I got the discounted ticket. Why did I have to struggle for the basic right of equality and dignity in the first place?” says Patil. 

Patil points out that she and Sheikh can assert their right, cite the NALSA judgement, and cope with officials but there are many trans women who cannot.

“Asking for documents like an Aadhar card in the bus is humiliating and discriminatory. They don’t ask other women so why us? Fellow passengers often laugh at us and give us strange looks – the behaviour of the bus staff reinforces their own patriarchal notions,” says transwoman from Mumbai who is working in a social development sector says,  

We tried to reach out to a few bus conductors at the Kurla and Dadar bus depots in Mumbai for a response to these allegations. Only one of them, who did not wish to be named, answered. “We just do our duty honestly, and follow rules. Why would we discriminate against them? MSRTC should tell us clearly to give the tickets to trans women, and we’ll follow,” he says. 

Self-identification should be sufficient

The state bus scheme, announced in the last budget session by the state’s finance minister, Devendra Fadanvis, was meant to attract women passengers, increase their mobility and promote public transport. The 50 % discount is being reimbursed to the MSRTC by the state government. Behanbox emailed a questionnaire to MSRTC seeking updated data on the beneficiaries of the scheme, the increase registered in women travellers and so on. We have yet to receive a response. 

We also contacted Shekhar Channe, vice president and managing director of MSRTC, about the exclusionary behaviour of its staff. “We don’t ask any woman passenger for [identity] documents for availing discounted tickets. Self-identification is sufficient,” says Channe. “We will issue the guidelines again with better clarity.” 

Shaikh, who appealed to trans women to keep their documents ready on their phones, says she does not blame bus conductors for the manner in which they deal with gender identity. “They are not sensitised enough and GR (Government resolution) must mention transgender women as beneficiaries in clear words. Only then the ground staff will follow the rules. It’s the government and policy makers’ duty to ensure inclusion at the policy level first,” she says.   

Bhagyesha Kurane, a lawyer at the Bombay high court, too sought an amendment to the GR of the scheme to include trans women. “Article 14 of the constitution guarantees equality to ‘all’.  Men, women, transgender persons and people of different gender identities, sexual orientations are guaranteed equal protection from the law,” she says.  

MSRTC has said that it will issue new guidelines with inclusive directives soon. We will follow up with the officials and update our readers about future developments. 

Way Forward

Devyani Ramamoorthy, an urban analyst with a transport and planning consultancy based in Bangalore, told Behanbox that urban planners should use the gender lens when they deal with a city’s public transport needs. “The recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Policy for Bengaluru lists inclusivity for all economic classes, genders, ages and abilities as one of its six objectives. It recommends the provision of affordable housing, safe vending zones, and a supportive environment for micro-enterprises in TOD zones. Attention towards gender minorities is found in the policy’s recommendations for increasing the mode-share of public transport. These recommendations especially focus on making public spaces more accessible and safe,” she says. 

Ramamoorthy says it is important to include gender and sexual minorities in the planning process itself and their ideas must find a place in public transport schemes. This, she adds, will ensure inclusive implementation as well. 

  • Priyanka Tupe is a multimedia journalist with Behanbox based in Mumbai.

Malini Nair (Editor)

Malini Nair is a consulting editor with Behanbox. She is a culture writer with a keen interest in gender.

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