Women’s Day: Can men claim seats reserved for ladies in Kerala buses? THE WEEK fact checks

On a moonlit Kochi night, this writer was sweating inside a KSRTC Swift awaiting departure at the Ernakulam stand. The Super Fast bus was destined to reach Thiruvananthapuram around 5 in the morning. It was not before several minutes that the crew entered through their designated doors. The conductor, in his ironed sandal-orange uniform and trimmed beard, was followed inside through the front by a bunch of passengers, all men, who quickly scrambled to find comfy seats for the long night journey.

”This is not the women’s seat, is it?” The bus was hardly half-full, yet one had to ask the million-dollar question from a few rows behind. The conductor, configuring the ticket machine, signalled he could stay put.

”Don’t bother once the bus leaves here. They can only claim the seats from the originating depot. Once the journey starts, the women can’t make you move. That’s the law…,” another fellow loudly declared from the front. He was confidently looking at the conductor, who stood beside me.

I, too, looked at him, waiting for my ignominious co-passenger to be tutored.

The conductor, too pleasant and lively for a tiry night, was still clicking on the ticket machine as he went, ”No point. You can’t oppose them (women) even with laws. What they say is the rule these days…”

A double bell followed and the driver pressed the ignition switch.


No doubt the man was wrong. On a six-hour-long journey across four districts of the state, the reserved seats cannot be just for the depot of origin. If a woman boards an occupied long-distance government bus midway, is she supposed to depend on the mercy of random men to get a seat that she has a lawful claim for? What’s the point of reservation if a first-come first-serve system is in place?

The ladies’ seats are marked the same way as other reserved seats. So, if a senior citizen or differently-abled person enters a packed KSRTC bus midway, don’t they get to sit? More importantly, the conductor’s seat is labelled the same way the women’s seats are. If one were to take this seat as the conductor takes one of his routine trips to the other end of the vehicle to give tickets, is he supposed to complete the rest of the journey standing?

I didn’t speak up that night. The reason was the same as that of a bunch of girls seen in a video that has gone viral on Malayalam social media circles recently. Originally published as an Instagram reel, the clip showed an exchange between a man behind the camera and the girls inside a moving KSRTC bus. He’s lecturing the young women that they can’t lay claim to the ladies’ seats once the bus has started its journey. It is not mandatory that the reserved seats should be given to women when demanded, he claims. He goes on to challenge the girls to call the police or lawyers but he will still not give up the reserved seat he was occupying for any woman. Interestingly, the woman conductor of the bus, seen briefly in the video, refuses to interfere.

The girls in the video, like me the other night, couldn’t react constructively due to the lack of information. To counter abysmally confident (though absurd) individuals, you need unerring data that denies them any chance at a comeback. Otherwise, it is just like wrestling a pig in the mud.

Here’s a deep dive to uncover the misinformation behind the age-old sexist claim.

“Viral” claim tracked to Facebook

A Malayalam keyword search revealed that the claim is not new. It has been doing rounds for some years now. Over the years, it found takers across platforms in different layouts. It migrated from the lengthy textual formats of Facebook to brief videos on Instagram and YT Shorts.

We found a post from February 2019 that elaborated on the argument. This viral post was shared and reproduced by numerous users in early 2019, the search confirmed.

One of the viral posts from 2019 that shared the bogus claim

However, the search also revealed a post on the official Facebook page of Kerala Police from March 13, 2019. Evidently, it was an effort to put brakes on the viral post that was spreading like wildfire. The lengthy post debunked the bogus claim surrounding reservation seats and warned defaulters of consequences quoting the Motor Vehicle Department.

”It is being circulated in social media that there is a law that restrains the ouster of men occupying the reserved seats for women in buses. Some online media have also picked up this fake news after it went viral on social media. But the Department of Motor Vehicles warns that this argument has no legal backing.

”Men can use the women’s seats if they are not occupied. But the law insists that they should get up when women board the bus. The KSRTC, in an order, has instructed that the conductor should ask men to vacate the priority seats if women demand during the journey,” the post in Malayalam said.

Explaining the consequences of breaking the law, the post added, ”The Department of Motor Vehicles has informed that there will be punishments including fines for travelling in reserved seats in buses. Legal action will be taken against any passenger who refuses to vacate the seat and argues with the conductor.”

We also found a 2022 media report that claimed access to a 2016 Right To Information (RTI) response from the KSRTC. The Corporation’s response dated January 29, 2016, said that as per government order, male occupants of the 25 per cent of seats reserved for women are liable to vacate them once women board the bus.

Conductors shouldn’t be silent spectators

Passengers often raise their complaints and protest with bus conductors. But what can their tribe do in case an argument erupts inside a bus?

ksrtc reservation 1 (1)

”Some time back, a group of ex-servicemen boarded the bus. One of them sat in a ladies seat. I reminded him right away that he would have to get up once women board but he paid no heed. A few stops later, I had to ask him to vacate and he was not pleased. Later, he told me I wronged him and we had a long chat. He said he had seen an order that proved me wrong. But, I had seen this viral post on Facebook and knew he was talking about the same. I dared him to show me the order. He’s a regular at the depot but never mentioned the episode again. I think he learnt the truth,” Sabari Nath, a state general council member of KSRTC’s biggest employee union, said.

Conductors can ask non-deserving occupants of reserved seats to vacate and said if attempts to defuse the situation amicably fail and the perpetrators become a nuisance, the crew can inform the police of the development, he said. ”Halting the bus is not advisable as it affects every passenger. In worst-case scenarios, the crew can take the bus to the nearest police station,” he said. ”Even educated people fall for such posts and create a scene,” the KSRTEA leader added.

But what about private buses?

Anoop Nair, an Assistant Motor Vehicle Inspector with the Kerala MVD, said that all state carriages fall under the same rules and regulations. The onus is always on the conductors to ensure rules are followed.

“There are no special provisions for the state transport corporation.”

ksrtc reservation 1

An instruction inside a KSRTC bus stating that reserved seats must be vacated for eligible passengers

“No passenger is going to approach a driver with their concerns as there is not much he can do. Conductors are not just meant to collect money and give tickets. They are responsible for ensuring rules, including those concerning reservation, are followed,” the MVD officer said.  

“They should do their best to convince the person to vacate the seat. If he is not budging, the best thing to do is to contact the nearest police aid post. The driver and conductor will face the music if the Road Transport Officer receives a complaint claiming that they failed to do their duty,” Nair said.