BMTC Lady Driver

Prema Ramappa is not about to be cowed down by threats from colleagues. Since the strike began, she has clocked in and plied the Majestic-Koramangala route, despite her bus being targeted by disgruntled elementsIt sometimes takes a woman to teach you how to be a real man. The ongoing strike called by KSRTC and BMTC employees’ unions has hamstrung everyday life for the common man. The few bus drivers and conductors reporting for work are so worried about a backlash from their striking colleagues that they have taken to masking their faces with handkerchiefs. But not 33-year-old Prema Ramappa, Bangalore's first woman bus driver with BMTC. Threats and even a couple of attacks on her bus have not deterred the lady from reporting to duty — without any recourse to masking her face — since the strike started on Thursday. “I am a mother and a public servant first. If I don't turn up to work, I would be doing injustice to both roles and that is something I cannot live with,” said Prema as she punched in for the general shift, climbed into her seat and pressed down on the gas pedal.

Her courage and dedication have not gone unnoticed. On Friday, she was given a cheque for Rs 10,000 by BMTC managing director K Sreenivas and and divisional controller Ramamurthy as a token of the management’s appreciation. “I will send the entire amount home,” she said. But the bigger reward that came her way was from grateful passengers. Many of them offered her garlands and some youngsters even sought her blessings.

For Prema, making ends meet is an overriding concern. “I have a family back in Belgaum. I have aging parents and a school-going little boy. If I don't turn up for work even for a day, I lose that day's salary, which I can ill-afford. My son Rakesh is in the fourth standard and I need every penny to ensure that his future is secure,” she said. Her determination to make good was what got her the job in the first place. “I travelled 700 kilometers from my hometown of Gokak in Belgaum to work here. BMTC has given me a chance to earn my livelihood. As a public servant, I cannot inconvenience my passengers. So there is no question of not reporting for work,” she said.

Prema made ripples in the media when she became the first woman driver at BMTC two years ago (‘Single mum steers her dream’, BM, Oct 26, 2010). Her passion for driving since her school days moved her to apply for a job, first at KSRTC and then at BMTC. “I first drove a bus when I was in college. I used to commute to college by bus and some of the drivers taught me how to control a bus. Those lessons helped me immensely. Since then, I wanted to be a bus driver and once I gained confidence, I applied for a driving licence for heavy vehicles. A few years ago, KSRTC had called for applications for drivers. I applied and cleared all the tests, but could not join due to personal reasons. I was determined to be a driver and when BMTC called for applications, I grabbed the chance,” she said.

However, Prema’s pro-work approach has not gone down well with many of her striking colleagues. Currently assigned the Majestic-Kormangala route, she was warned against taking her vehicle out of the depot on Thursday. When she refused to pay heed, her bus was attacked at the Koramangala Water Tank and at Majestic. On Friday, her vehicle was chased by around 15 persons near Canara Bank in Koramangala. The incidents happen in daylight and it was only the timely intervention of police constable Basavaraj, who was posted on her bus, that saved the day. “They tried to stop the bus and it was he who managed to scare them away,” she said.

The incidents have left her disturbed and worried. “I now open only the front door to let passengers in, because I would be caught unawares if someone came from the back door to attack me,” she said. But despite these concerns, Prema refuses to mask her face like some of her male counterparts on duty. 

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