Bus Marshals on the Margins: Delhi's Neglected Heroes

Bus Marshals on the Margins: Delhi’s Neglected Heroes

Unpaid and overlooked, Delhi's bus marshals confront job insecurity, striving for recognition in the city's public safety landscape.
First Published: Dec 27,2023 07:50PM
by Anshuman Singh & Inderpal Singh
Bus Marshals | Delhi


In a groundbreaking initiative by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi became the first city in India to implement a comprehensive safety measure in its public transportation system. “Starting tomorrow, every bus in Delhi will have a bus marshal to safeguard women,” announced Kejriwal years ago, underlining a commitment to public safety, especially for female commuters.

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This decision was part of the Bus Marshals scheme, initiated in 2015 as a response to the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case, which shook the nation. The scheme aimed to deploy bus marshals, primarily civil defence volunteers, on Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses to enhance the security of women passengers.

However, the uplifting narrative of women’s safety and secure public transport has taken a distressing turn. These bus marshals, once seen as protectors and assistants on every bus, now find themselves embroiled in a struggle for their own rights, with their services terminated and several months of unpaid salaries. This dire situation has led to widespread protests across Delhi, where the voices of these marshals resonate with despair and disappointment. Tragically, this crisis has even claimed lives, with some marshals succumbing during the protests.

Deepak, the son of Bijendra Singh, a bus marshal who recently passed away, shared his father’s ordeal. “For the last five years, he had been working as a bus marshal, starting in November 2019,” Deepak said. “For a month now, he had been part of the protests against the withholding of salaries for the past five to six months. We only hope for some help and the fulfilment of promises made to us.”

Dhanshi Ram, another affected bus marshal, echoed these sentiments. “Bijendra Singh was our brother, a marshal, under a lot of tension about debts and supporting his family,” he explained. “We were promised permanent jobs and basic benefits, but now, after using our services, we’ve been sacked without any notice.”

Bus Marshals’ Struggle for Survival and Justice Amidst Government Apathy

The plight of Delhi’s bus marshals, once champions of public safety, has turned into a harrowing saga of broken promises and financial despair. Anchal, a bus marshal, breaks down while describing her family’s struggles. “We have nothing to eat,” she laments, revealing that even basic amenities like a Ration Card are denied to them due to their association with the Civil Defence. “Our only demand is to get our jobs back,” Anchal asserts, her voice cracking with emotion.

Deepa Devi, another bus marshal and a housewife, shares her anguish over her inability to provide for her family. “I can’t even manage the school fees for my children,” she says, tears welling up. “What will their future be if I can’t educate them?” 

Her predicament is echoed by Soni Shabnam, who recalls the Chief Minister’s promise back in 2019 of permanent employment—a promise that now rings hollow. “They sacked us,” Soni states, her voice heavy with worry. “I can see my children’s future being destroyed.”

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As these bus marshals stand on the brink, their plight raises serious questions about the commitment of the government to its workforce and the real cost of administrative oversights. Their demand for justice and the restoration of their livelihoods continues to echo through the streets of Delhi, a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by those who once served as guardians of the city’s public transport system.

Delhi’s Bus Marshals Caught in Political Crossfire

The Supreme Court’s recent decision not to entertain the Delhi government’s plea against the termination of civil defence volunteers working as bus marshals has added to the ongoing strife in the national capital. This ruling comes amidst a fierce political tussle between the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and the Delhi government, with far-reaching consequences on the lives of numerous citizens, particularly the bus marshals. These individuals, once pivotal to Delhi’s transport system, now find themselves embroiled in a battle that symbolises the human cost of political deadlock.

Bus Marshal Balwinder Singh Saini voices the frustration of many: “LG has his perspective, Kejriwal has his, but it’s us, the employees, who suffer in the middle. What is our fault? Our salary was just 20,000, barely enough to manage our families’ needs.”

The centre of this political conflict is the contentious decision to terminate the services of these civil defence volunteers, a decision approved by the LG but contested by the Delhi government. In a dramatic development, sources from the LG’s office alleged that the proposal to terminate the volunteers’ services came from the Delhi Chief Minister’s office, a claim that was promptly denied by the government. Amidst these conflicting narratives, bus marshals like Anil Sharma and Chandrashekhar Joshi are left in a state of uncertainty about their future.

Anil Sharma shares his disappointment: “We were told we no longer had jobs. Now they suggest we join the Home Guard, but at my age, the physical requirements are unrealistic.” Chandrashekhar Joshi adds, “We are the backbone supporting them, yet they withhold our hard-earned money. If they propose shifting us to the Home Guard, what benefit does that offer us?”

Snehalata, another bus marshal, highlights the indifference they face: “We went to Kejriwal’s house, the LG’s house, and other politicians, but got no response. We’ve served selflessly, even during COVID-19, but our struggles as women and workers are ignored.” Their colleague Premjeet Singh echoes this sentiment, “We’re trying to submit a letter at the Secretariat, but we’re barred from entering.”

As these bus marshals stand on the streets, demanding justice and acknowledgment, their voices seem to drown in the sea of political manoeuvres and administrative indifference. 

Bus Marshals: Indispensable Guardians of Public Safety in Delhi’s Transit System

In Delhi’s bustling public transportation system, bus marshals have long been the silent guardians ensuring the safety and security of thousands of commuters, particularly women. However, as their struggle for recognition and fair wages intensifies, their absence is deeply felt across the city.

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Snehalata, a dedicated bus marshal, shares a poignant story illustrating their vital role. “We will not give up,” she declares. “There was a child lost on the bus, his mental condition unstable. If I hadn’t been there, who knows what might have happened. We confront dangers like pickpockets daily, risking our lives for the safety of passengers.”

Echoing her sentiments, Rakesh, another bus marshal, challenges the idea that technology can replace the human element in ensuring safety. “They’ve installed cameras and panic buttons in buses, but can these stop pickpockets or assist the elderly and disabled?” he questions. “We see incidents of pickpocketing and misbehaviour towards women regularly. The responsibility lies with the Delhi government.”

The impact of the bus marshals’ absence is not lost on the commuters either. Mansi Sharma, a regular bus user, attests to their importance. “Bus marshals provide significant protection, especially for women,” she says. “Their absence has made a noticeable difference in the safety and security on the buses.”

As the debate over their presence on Delhi’s buses continues, the bus marshals find themselves in a limbo of uncertainty and frustration. The question now looms large in the heart of India’s capital: Will the plight of the bus marshals, once the backbone of Delhi’s transport system, resonate in the corridors of power, or will it be drowned out in the city’s relentless march towards the future? Their struggle transcends mere employment issues, touching the very core of public safety, dignity of labour, and the promise of a secure livelihood.

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