Bangalore: It was supposed to be a short, uneventful ride on a Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) Volvo bus for Swati Nigam, a techie, on Saturday. Instead it turned out to be a trip right to prison — all because she allegedly lost her temper over a very trivial issue.
Swati, a native of Uttar Pradesh who works for Accenture in the city, was on her way to Marathalli and had boarded a Volvo (Route No. 500D) near Echo Space on the Outer Ring Road in Sarjapur. According to the police, she asked the conductor C Manjaiah, for a ticket. Manjaiah asked her to pay Rs 25, but since the distance was barely 4km, Swati objected and demanded an explanation. Manjaiah explained to her that the fare was Rs 25 if she alighted after the Marathalli Bridge, but the fare was only Rs 15 if she got down before the bridge. He told her that the stage changes after the bridge and that there is an increase of Rs 10 in fare for every stage.
Swati appeared satisfied with the explanation and told the conductor that she would alight before the bridge. She asked for a Rs 15 ticket and gave the conductor a Rs 100 note. BMTC conductors suffer from a perennial problem of lack of small change and Manjaiah appeared no different. Manjaiah told Swati he did not have change and asked her to get change while he attended to other passengers.
When Manjaiah returned after a trip around the bus, Swati still didn’t have change. Manjaiah told her to pay the minimum fare of Rs 10 and to get down at the next stop. This triggered an argument between the two. Swati refused to pay since she was, quite literally, being forced off the bus. The conductor retorted that she should not have boarded the bus if she didn’t have the exact fare.
According to the police, Manjaiah then broke out into Kannada, and Swati, under the impression that he was abusing her, resorted to violence. She slapped the conductor, hitting him on his right ear and followed up by clawing him. The driver, realising an altercation had broken out, locked the doors and, on the advice of other passengers, drove to the nearest police station.
At the HAL police station, statements of both parties were recorded as were the statements of four other passengers. The passengers blamed Swati for starting the row and accused her of bad behaviour. A case of assault and obstructing a government servant was registered against Swati. Manjaiah was sent for a medical examination which confirmed an injury to his ear and temporary loss of hearing. He also had suffered bruises from scratching. Swati was then taken to a magistrate’s house who remanded her to 15 days judicial custody.
A depressed and disconsolate Swati was taken to Parappana Agrahara Central prison. Jail authorities say she spent most of Saturday night and Sunday weeping and had refused to eat.
“Passengers should cooperate with the bus crew,” said KM Auradkar, BMTC Volvo divisional controller. “Small issues like this need to be sorted out . We will conduct an in-house inquiry on this issue.”
A friend of Swati, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed Manjaiah’s conduct was wholly unjustified. “When the conductor said he had no change and Swati agreed to get down, the conductor should not have insisted on her paying the Rs 10 minimum fare,” the friend said. “If she had change, she would have paid Rs 15 and continued the journey. From where will she get change? The conductor and some commuters misbehaved with Swati and provoked her by making comments in Kannada. She too has been assaulted. Once she is out of jail, we will register a complaint against the conductor and the driver.”
Manjaiah, however, claims the allegations that he and the driver had assaulted Swati were untrue and an afterthought. “If she was assaulted on board, she should have stated it before the police or the magistrate,” Manjaiah said.