Report by Santanu Ganguly, New Delhi: Actress and model Reema Sharma who posed stark naked for Newz88 and the Mumbai Citizens Action Forum in a controversial protest campaign defended her means and method saying it is a novel method of protest to attract maximum attention of the authorities and the public at large.
“We do not have huge budgets for conventional media campaigns. Why don’t you consider the cause? This is not just a publicity stunt. Models and actors across the world have posed nude for PETA. Newz88 is trying to create awareness about the fact that the common man in Mumbai is fleeced and held to ransom daily. Some persons in the media have criticized my act saying ‘I am a wannabe and who knows me’. I say who the f**k knows you. I have not posed nude for my own publicity but for the cause that I stand for. Do you realise that you are being conned and cheated almost every time you travel in an auto rickshaw in Mumbai as over 70 per cent of the old mechanical meters are tampered and show hugely inflated fares. The other auto meters which are not tampered are genuinely faulty and tend to “jump”. The new electronic meters are not calibrated with the new fares and the drives have been charging arbitrarily. What do you expect me to do? Go on a hunger strike like Annaji at Churchgate station? If posing nude does not help the cause, then will a hunger strike really help?”
On Thursday the day the new auto and taxi fares came into effect in an arbitrary, haphazard and hurried manner, the Mumbai chapter of the Citizens Action Forum and Newz88 launched a novel protest against the arbitrary fare hike of auto rickshaws and taxis in Mumbai. They roped in well-known model and actress Reema Sharma to pose in the buff for a photo shoot. Says Reema, “I was approached by Newz88 to do a bold shoot for an awareness campaign against the large number of tampered fare meters in use by taxis and auto rickshaws in Mumbai. I have absolutely no qualms about posing nude for this shoot as it is a major issue, affecting lakhs of commuters and passengers in Mumbai with a few thousand auto and taxi drivers holding the entire city to ransom with their threats to go on strike.” Reema Sharma has done 3 films in the south and has recently signed on a Tamil film in the main lead. She is also seen in several print and TV commercials.
A press release from Newz88 says, “According to unofficial yet reliable figures, over 50 per cent of the old mechanical auto rickshaw meters and about 30 per cent of taxi meters are tampered, resulting in highly inflated fares. Auto drivers also use fake tariff cards to con passengers. These practices are completely illegal and commuters are royally fleeced by the rogue drivers who also refuse to ferry passengers over short distances. Many drivers use the older meters which are very unreliable and tend to “jump”. Even the electronic meters in use are not calibrated with the latest fare structure and auto drivers use their own “discretion” to charge customers. The new fare has come into effect from 11th October, but auto and taxi meters are not calibrated with the new structure. Drivers – most of them who have not yet understood the structure are arbitrarily charging consumers who are being fleeced en masse.
The Citizens Action Forum in association with Newz88 has planned a series of protests against what it terms “arbitrary discretion” of the Transport Authority, State Government and the auto and taxi drivers. The consumer or passenger has no discretion or say in this matter.