The Beating in the Bus

Violence against a ‘lower order’–visible and tangible preferably–is a time-honored technique of social control.  It brings pain and humiliation together in a cruel package and issues a stinging reminder of difference and domination; it has not lost any of its effectiveness over the years. This is a brief note on one such public display of violent assertion.

During my university years, I rode city transport–a bus–both ways to the campus on the other end of town. The city transit authority made available a limited number of buses exclusively for use by university students; these ran point to point from pick up locations in the city to the campus (and back.) Soon after I began using them, I became aware that the students regarded the drivers and conductors with what might be described as a kind of combative, yet perhaps even genial, contempt. Stories of edgy, verbal encounters with the transit staff were legendary, as were stories of fisticuffs. The reasons for these seemed to rise only one level above the trivial: the staff’s ‘rudeness’ seemed to be the most common reason for arguments or brawling to break out. This situation was made especially mystifying by the fact that interactions with the bus crew were minimal; the students carried monthly passes that meant we did not even need to buy a daily ticket.

One return trip from campus brought this needless conflict to the fore. On that day, a bunch of lads that rode in our bus–college athletes by the look of them–decided it would be a good idea to make it go on a little detour so that they could–rather more conveniently for them–alight at a spot closer to their final destination. They told the bus driver to divert; he ignored their rather brusque commands, drove on a little further on the usual route, and then halted at the next available stopping area.  He had done nothing else but stick to his prescribed duties. They did not, on pain of rational routing, call for idiosyncratic manipulations of the bus route on an ad-hoc basis by the bus’ passengers.

But hot-headed young men–perhaps uncertain of their futures, perhaps seething with resentment at the crushingly competitive futures that awaited them once they left campus, perhaps anticipating their domination by the economically privileged, and thus, perhaps seeking an outlet for their frustration–had been insulted. By a representative of those folks whose sole raison d’être seemed to be mindless chauffering them back and forth from the university; their only tasks, surely, were to take orders and execute them without complaint (and preferably with gratitude.) A lesson needed to be taught.

It was dispensed with remarkable efficiency. The driver was alone, not physically threatening in the slightest; the students were several and burly. A quick rain of kicks, slaps, and punches ensued; the driver, trapped in his seat and drivers cage, could not escape any of the blows; every one of them landed unerringly on his face, his jaw, his back. And then, his assailants were gone; we, the rest of the passengers on the bus, had been mere spectators. The driver was not incapacitated; somehow he composed and collected himself, and quietly drove on.

We rode on with him, silent in collective shame.

3 comments on “The Beating in the Bus

  1. Noor Alam says:

    Wow, what a horribly upsetting story. How cruel people can be.

  2. Oh my gosh this is awful… We also have a university busing system, but the students are usually overwhelmingly polite to the drivers, who are disproportionately minorities… I think they sense that there is a huge degree of inequality and unfairness separating them from people who have no better option than to drive the same route, day after day

    • Samir Chopra says:

      I think the problem here was the relationship was set up as antagonistic from the beginning. The students were convinced the drivers were against them and vice-versa. And as I note, the students were quite a frustrated lot as well.

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