Shimla: Aarti, only 22, is the first woman bus conductor employed by state public transporter Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC). Recruited on a casual basis on 16th October 2015, under an HRTC drive to promote Skill Development Program, she has just completed an year on the demanding job. Fair, slim and smiling Aarti takes pride in her being employed, even at a paltry pay package of just Rs 4,500/- per month. A Business Administration graduate, Aarti hails from Dharamshala and is the eldest among three children of a property dealer.
As I boarded a long route Chandigarh – Shimla bus from Solan and settled on a seat closest to the door, sweet voice of a young girl ‘ticket please’ caught me by surprise. Frankly it was my first experience of seeing a woman conductor on the bus. Post her issuing tickets to passengers as she settled on her front seat next to the driver, my creative writing spirit instigated me to talk to her.
Without any hesitation she confided in me that initially there was much resistance from her relatives about her joining this type of work but it was her father who confidently supported her with the belief that no work was big or small and when girls were taking up all types of employment be it in the armed forces, police, BSF, trains or others, there was no harm in beginning a career as a bus conductor.
Conducting buses between Chandigarh and Shimla has become a routine for her. “My duty hours are normally between 9 am to 6 pm, said Aari. However on the Shimla – Delhi bound buses she is made to hand over duty to a male counterpart at Chandigarh and conduct another bus back to Shimla.
Talking about safety of women in this job she says that so far she had not come across any embarrassing situation either from the passengers or from the staff members. “They are all very cooperative”, she said.
No longer the lone woman conductor, she informed that after her bold foray HRTC had subsequently recruited 26 more women under the skill development scheme but all of them were married ladies. Aarti thus remains the youngest and unmarried of the lot.
Can you whistle, I asked her shoving my hand in the mouth. Of course, she giggled but had a proper whistle to guide the bus in traffic or parking as well as helping passengers alight or disembark the bus.
What to talk of a conductor’s job, she informed me that there now was even a woman driver in HRTC employed under the same scheme.
“This woman driver,” Aarti revealed, “was plying a Tavera Taxi on Sanjauli-Lakkarbazar route in Shimla.” I could not help but admire the indomitable spirit of these women challenging what till only a few years ago was considered a only males bastion.
Aarti has to manage all her monthly expenditure with the paltry pay package of Rs.4,500 as she has no relatives to support her stay in Shimla.
About her siblings she said that her younger sister was pursuing a Master in Arts degree and younger brother was studying in class 7th. The two other siblings live with her mother at Dharmshala while their father, lived in Kullu where he had set up a property dealing business.
What next. Of course she is looking forward to getting regular employment in HRTC or elsewhere. At this young age, marriage she considers is not on cards in the near future.
Just like the girl next door, I may not recognise her on a chance encounter when she is off duty.