Beating the game: One woman, five drunk men and an overnight bus

On March 31 a woman boarded an overnight bus with a friend. She was the only women and five drunk men started playing a game. This is the story of how she survived that night of what should have been an unexceptional journey.

hidden April 09, 2013 17:06:07 IST
Beating the game: One woman, five drunk men and an overnight bus

by Trina Nileena Banerjee

"Chal game shuru karein!"
"Kaunsa game?"
"Wahi jo propose karne ke baad, haan ya naa ka wait nahin karte, bas game shuru ho jaata hai!"

[“Come let’s start the game!”
“Which game?”
“The one where once you propose it, you don’t wait for a yes or a no. The game just starts!”]

This is how the conversation around me went. I was the only woman in an overnight bus full of male strangers (going from Dehradun to Delhi) and one male friend, who was just as cornered as I was.

We had the option of getting off the bus, finding another one, a state bus at least, one with one or two women at the minimum, we were still at ISBT. But after an hour's mulling, I decided to stay and see this through.

The five men were drunk, the abuses kept getting louder — it was never directed quite straightforwardly at me, but it was clear what was intended. Every other passenger, except my friend and I, pretended to be asleep even though the abuses and laughter were too loud for anyone to fall asleep.

The lights were switched off. I wondered when and how this would escalate, how far they would go. Or would they just get tired and go to sleep?

I tried to stay upright, willing myself not to fall asleep even when they quietened down, staring straight out of the window. They kept speaking of the "game", and when and how they would start it.

I had lost my phone. My friend's phone was almost out of battery and we probably had enough charge to make just one call. I could think of only two people to call and one of those numbers I couldn’t remember. So I called the one I did remember and spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. It was a small bus.

"Hello, this is Trina. I am on bus number such and such going from Dehra to Delhi. I am the only woman on the bus, and there are some drunk men. I am not feeling very safe, could you send me the number of the helpline for women in north India? Yes, it was started after the Dec incident in Delhi. Yes, online."

I knew there was probably no such helpline at least where we were in Uttarakhand. But the bluff worked. They quietened down. After I hung up, there were some half-hearted attempts to continue the jokes, but they stopped, by and large.

The man behind me, who had been laughing the loudest, was staring at me when I looked back: "Bhaisaab, mere seat se aapke payr hataiye." (Bhaisaab, please remove your feet from my seat)

Beating the game One woman five drunk men and an overnight bus

A protester sings in a DTC bus during the Delhi gangrape protests. File photo used for representational purposes only. Reuters

I tried to speak loudly and clearly, even though I was scared stiff. It was pitch dark. He listened.

When the bus stopped at a dhaba in Roorkee in the middle of the night, I was still wide awake. The five men got off. They stood around smoking and whispering to each other, staring at me occasionally from below. I tried to look straight into their eyes. Some of them may have been younger than me. It was menacingly hostile.

When the bus started again, I said to my friend: "Kya kar lenge? Kitni door jayenge? Maar dalenge? 5 min ki masti hai na? Ya usse zyada? Kya kya risk karenge? [What can they do? How far will they go? Will they kill us? It’s five minutes of fun, isn’t it? Or is it more? How much will they risk?] Whatever they do, if I reach Delhi alive, I won’t leave them alone. I will search out and destroy each of them. And if I don't get back alive, there are friends who know where I am, who I know will do the exact same thing for me. Log darte hain, so yeh sochte hain kuchh bhi chalta hain. [People are afraid, so they think anything goes.]"

Then I said: "I should start using my phone camera. Can you get on the Internet now from your phone?"

The last two were bluffs. I didn’t even have a phone, and my friend's phone was dead. But the men were silent. Apparently. Or this time, they were pretending to be asleep.

I sat up awake most of the night. We reached Noida safely at dawn.

I had considered not writing this down. It was a reasonably minor incident: that could have escalated, but did not.The men would have probably joked around and fallen asleep anyway. Even if I hadn’t spoken, or made that call.

On the other hand, if it had turned major, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. Anything might have happened, or nothing.

I considered not writing it because it might sound like some weird tale of stupid bravado, which it wasn’t. It was mostly a strange stubbornness I suddenly felt about getting off of the bus. I didn’t want to. I did not want to admit I was afraid. Was there reason to be? Should women be afraid if they find themselves alone with strange men on an overnight bus in India? I don’t know.

I was just determined to finish that journey on that bus, with the drunk men shouting and laughing about their "game", their feet edging into the back of my seat. If it was a game of nerves, I wanted to see it through. If it was more, I wanted to see how far they would go.

This is how it happened and after much mulling through the day, I am putting it down. Not the least because, I was afraid, truly afraid after a very long time.

A minor incident. Getting on a bus. Minor it should be. Then why this torrent of fear that I had to cross?

[Since I posted this note on Facebook on the 2nd of April, there have been more than 2000 shares. It is obvious that many people identify with the situation in which I found myself. Some said I was paranoid, that nothing would have happened and others that I was plain lucky, that this could have turned into another 16th December. Both claims sort of cancel each other out, so I am not addressing those. What the risks, dangers and possibilities of the event (if you can call it one) is anybody’s guess. However, many more people called me brave and expressed admiration for my ‘courage’, but I want to stress again and again, that there was absolutely nothing exceptional about the incident or what I chose to do. And that is the scariest part of the story. That this state of affairs should have become so commonly accepted as to be deemed normal and a woman’s simple assertion of her right to stay on a bus, or any public transport that she chooses to board, is turned into an act of exceptional courage. This is horrifying. How much leeway have we given without knowing it? How much more apologetic and fearful can we be? If this is indeed the state of affairs, women’s right to vote means absolutely nothing. We might as well give it up.]

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