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Riding to freedom

Haika Sajad

Srinagar, Feb 29:

For 23-year-old Marouf scooty was the only way out of the harassment girls face in public transport.

A mass-communication student at the University of Kashmir, Marouf has been riding the two-wheeler since 2012, when she was studying at the Government College for Women Nawakadal.

During the first year of her college, she says she was annoyed by unnecessary pushing and shoving in public transport.

“It was annoying, so I preferred to walk from my Batamaloo residence to Nawakadal College,” she said.

Soon after, Marouf bought a scooty, which helped her save time as well as escape the harassment.

“I was a bit reluctant as people can't take their eyes off a girl whether they are riding a two-wheeler or driving a four wheeler or even walking,” she said. However, while riding a scooty, she says, people stare or pass comments but can’t touch.

 “Whenever any such incident occurs, I do not pay any heed to the eve teasers and manage to flee freely,” she said.

So Marouf is happy with her scooty rides.  “It undoubtedly saves a lot of time and most importantly saves one from the harassment that occurs in the buses,” she says.

DIG Central Kashmir, Ghulam Hassan Bhat told Kashmir Impulse that a woman can register a complaint if she faces verbal harassment while riding or driving. He said the culprit can be arrested for eve teasing under 294 RPC.

 While scooty is making Marouf’s life easier and safer, her expenses have increased.

“I used to save some money from the bus fare expenses my parents gave me, by walking, but now all the money is spent on fuel,” she said. But the expenses on her scooty are worth it, she says.

She also finds a scooty better than cars because of traffic jams. “Traffic is never an issue while riding a scooty and it can enter  narrow lanes as well,” Marouf said. A car, she adds, is too expensive for her at this age.

Marouf is just one of the thousands of girls riding their way to freedom and convenience in Kashmir.

According to the data available at Regional Transport Office (RTO), in 2014 and 2015, 3202 women applied for learner’s license and 992 for regular licenses (for both two wheelers as well as four wheelers).

Officials said anyone who is 17 plus can apply for the driving license for scooty.

 “I feel delighted whenever any girl applies for a licence, so that they can travel by their own convenience,” said Regional Transport Officer Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Rather. He said girls mostly prefer two-wheelers to cars.

“I attended a few driving license sessions and girls passed driving tests,” Rather said.

Generally girls are also considered safe drivers.  According to the data available at the traffic department, as many as 63 accidents have occurred due to negligence of male drivers while there was no such case reported against women drivers since 2014. In 2015, 2,745 both males and females were booked for double pillion riding while as 19,886 for not wearing crash helmet during the same period. While as from January 2016 to February, 631 were booked for double pillion and 3,872 for not wearing crash helmet.

Officials say that only four percent of traffic violators are female.

"Women are comparatively safer drivers and riders than men," said Senior Superintendent Police  Maqsood-u-Zaman.

Doctors at Shere-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura say that unlike boys, the hospital receives very few girls injured during riding or driving.

“Accident rate is not that common in girls as they are not rash riders or drivers,” an official said.

Head, Department of Neurosurgery at Shere-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura, Dr Altaf Ramzan said riders should follow the traffic norms to stay safe.

 “Traffic rules should be followed for their own safety; not just to show it to the traffic cops or to get away with the fines,” Dr Ramzan said.

“A proper helmet can make all the difference between serious injuries and leave from an accident uninjured,” she said. It protects their jaw, face and the skull, he said.

While riding in cold weather, he said, they should cover their face to prevent drying of skin and other skin related problems.

According to the data available at the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, 641 females have taken loan for scooties with easy monthly installments (EMIs).

 “With more and more girls riding scooties, we have given importance to it also and a few years ago we didn’t have this scheme,” said Sajjad Bazaz, Incharge Corporate Communication, J&K Bank.

With more and more women and girls riding scooties, dealers are also doing a good business.

From April 2015 to March 2016, 1126 scooties were sold by Hero JK Motors.

 “We sell about 200 scooties each month throughout the valley,” Hyfa Majeed Operation Administrator at Hero JK Motors told Kashmir Impulse.

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