Mind the gap: Women in Delhi Metro on the movehttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/delhi-metro-free-rides-women-fares-bjp-arvind-kejriwal-aap-delhi-dmrc-5795045/

Mind the gap: Women in Delhi Metro on the move

As Delhi debates a government proposal to offer free rides for women in public transport, Aranya Shankar boards the first Delhi Metro train, and the last, to listen to their stories on the move.

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6 am: First Metro from Dwarka Sector 21 to Noida Electronic City line. (Express Photo by Renuka Puri)

Bhavna Singh, 34 (works with a travel firm)
Coach no: 3
Dwarka Sector 21 to Nawada

The journey: Returning from a night shift at the Gurgaon travel company where she works, Bhavna Singh says, “After our night shifts, our company provides a shuttle service to drop around 25 of us to the Dwarka Metro station.” Singh’s shift starts at 8:30 pm every day and ends at 5:30 am.

From there, Singh takes the Metro to Nawada, where she lives. Commuting the distance from Nawada Metro station to home “is not a problem” as it’s “only a 2-3-minute walk away”. Singh, whose husband is a bank employee and who has a school-going daughter, uses the Metro six days a week. “My daughter’s school is in Dwarka Sector 10. So even when I have to attend parent-teacher meetings, I take the Metro because it’s convenient,” she says.

Her Metro bill: She has a Metro card and spends roughly Rs 2,000 per month.

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Life after Metro: When she was in college, Singh would either take the Delhi University ‘U-Special’ buses or change two buses to reach B R Ambedkar College, where she studied. “It would take over an hour. Metro has made travelling faster and convenient,” she says. Singh believes that making Metro rides free for women would be a great step. “My company doesn’t pay a transport allowance despite putting us on night shifts. For someone who earns around Rs 30,000 per month, to spend Rs 3,000 a month just on travel is very difficult, especially if you have a family and have to pay the bills.”

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(Left to Right) Bhavna Singh, Riya Gupta, Sunita, Sanam Lata.

Riya Gupta, 19
student
Coach no: 5
Dwarka Sector 9 to ITO via Mandi House

The journey: Gupta is a BBA student who uses the Metro six days a week to go to her college, Banarasidas Chandiwala Institute of Professional Studies, in Dwarka Sector 11. Today, she is heading to the National Bal Bhavan at Mandi House in Delhi to perform Bharatnatyam with her troupe on International Yoga Day. “I live in Dwarka Sector 23. Today, I hired an autorickshaw to the Metro station which cost me Rs 30. From ITO, I will take an e-rickshaw for Rs 10 to reach Bal Bhavan,” she says. On her daily commute, she only needs to travel two stops, but still prefers taking the Metro. “An auto costs me Rs 70 one way, whereas by Metro I have to pay Rs 18 one way. Even on holidays, I take the Metro,” she says. Gupta lives with her parents, two brothers and sister-in-law.

Her Metro bill: She has a Metro card and spends around Rs 1,000 per month.

Life after Metro: “It’s the most convenient form of transport. Without the Metro, roz ki travelling ruk si jayegi (the daily commute will stop). It ensures you don’t get stuck in traffic jams and it’s also air-conditioned. What more does one want?” Gupta is in favour of free rides, but with conditions. “It will benefit many women who can’t afford to travel, but it will also give access to chain snatchers and thieves. I feel free Metro is a good idea, but with some restrictions so as to prevent such people (chain snatchers) from getting in.”

Sunita, 40
domestic help
Coach no: 5
Dwarka Sector 14 to Laxmi Nagar via Yamuna Bank

The journey: Two years ago, the Patparganj slum in East Delhi where Sunita and her family lived for 20 years was razed and they were forced to shift to Dwarka, about 30 km away. Sunita, however, continues to travel to Patparganj, where she works as a help in a few homes.

“Once I get off at Laxmi Nagar, I will take a shared auto to Patparganj which will cost me Rs 5. All my contacts, all my work is in Patparganj and nearby areas like Vinod Nagar,” she says.

Sunita is the only earning member in her family — her four daughters are studying and her husband is differently abled. Taking the Metro both ways is expensive, she says, so Sunita tries to catch a bus on her return journey. “I take a bus from Vinod Nagar (in East Delhi) to Uttam Nagar (West Delhi), and then another bus from there to Dwarka Mor,” she says. Metro rides during holidays is “out of question” for Sunita.

Her Metro bill: She has a Metro card and spends about Rs 3,000 per month.

Life after Metro: “It is convenient but not as affordable as it used to be. The fare hike was bad for people like me. I earn Rs 10,000 a month, with which I have to support five people,” says Sunita. She hopes to save some money if the plan to implement free rides for women works out. But she has her doubts. “Will it happen? I am not sure. If the government manages to do it, it will be a welcome step.”

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Women travellers in New Delhi Metro in ladies compartment. (Express photo: Renuka Puri/File)

Sanam Lata, 45
housekeeping supervisor
Coach no: 6
Nawada to Karol Bagh

The journey: Lata leaves home every day at 7 am to go to Ganga Ram Hospital where she works as a housekeeping supervisor, and leaves work at 3 pm. Her home is 10-15 minutes from Nawada Metro station in West Delhi but she prefers to walk the distance, instead of taking an e-rickshaw. “From Karol Bagh Metro station too, where I get off, I walk to the hospital, unless I’m getting late,” she says. Lata uses the Metro six days a week to commute to work, including on festivals such as Holi and Diwali, because those are working days. Her husband died in 2011 and since then, Lata has been supporting her son and daughter, both of whom are studying.

Her Metro bill: She has a card and spends around Rs 2,500-3,000 a month.

Life after Metro: “It is very convenient. Even if I you travel long distances, you don’t feel tired or stressed. For the same distance, if you were to take the bus, I don’t think you would be able to do your job properly because you would already be tired after all that travel in the heat. Also, the Metro is much safer. To wait for buses and autos, you need to stand on the road, which makes one more vulnerable to harassment.” She worries that if the government implements its plan to make Metro rides free for women, they may pass on the financial burden to other commuters by raising fares. “If that is likely to happen, then it’s better if they reduce the fares instead,” she says.

Priyamvada Kulshrestha, 24
quality control engineer
Coach no: 3
Uttam Nagar East to Noida Sector 18

The journey: Kulshrestha, who works as a quality engineer at a company in Noida Sector 82, leaves home every day around 7 am to reach her office by 8 am. She clocks out at 6 pm, but reaches home only around 8 pm. She uses the Metro six days a week as well as on holidays, when she visits her parents in Noida. Kulshrestha lives with her husband, who runs a business in Uttam Nagar, and her in-laws.
“My home is 5-10 minutes away from Uttam Nagar East Metro station so I take e-rickshaws which are easily available. From Noida Sector 18, I take a share auto which costs Rs 15 and takes around 20 minutes to reach,” she says.

Her Metro bill: She has a Metro card and spends about Rs 3,500 per month.

Life after Metro: “You don’t need to worry about not being on time, because even if you miss one metro, you know that another will come in 2 minutes. And no getting stuck in traffic jams. Also, I shifted to Uttam Nagar only in February, after my marriage. As I am new to the area, I find the Metro to be safest option. The stations are never deserted and trains keep coming every now and then. This makes me feel safe,” says Kulshrestha. She is ambivalent about the proposed free Metro rides — while she agrees they will make a difference for working women, she believes the financial burden on the government will be heavy. She says, “On the whole, I think it’s a good step.”

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The metro here does not only cater to Delhi but also Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Bahadurgarh and Ballabhgarh.

Sunita Sharma, 48
works in firm selling medical equipment
Coach no: 1 (reserved for women)
Shastri Nagar to Golf Course via Rajiv Chowk and Kashmere Gate

The journey: Sharma spends 12 hours away from home every working day — she leaves home at 6.45 am to reach office at 8:30 am, and leaves office at 5 pm to reach home around 6:45 pm. “My home is 10-15 minutes away from Shastri Nagar. My husband usually drops me on his motorbike, otherwise I walk that distance. But it’s not a problem. It’s safe,” she says.

She uses the Metro six days a week to commute to work. It takes her around 25 minutes to reach office. “On my way back home, there is a staff bus which drops us off at Golf Course Metro station, so that is no trouble at all,” she says.

Sharma lives with her husband, who works in a company that sells sports equipment, and college-going son and daughter, and prefers to take the Metro even when travelling outside of work.

Her Metro bill: She has a card and spends around 2,500 per month.

Life after Metro: “Around 10 years ago, when the metro had just started, I used to take the bus to work. I would get into a bus going to Faridabad from Kashmere Gate, and would plead with the driver to make an unscheduled stop and drop me off in the middle. I worked in that area earlier. Now travelling has become hassle-free and fast,” says Sharma. About the proposed free metro rides, she says, “No woman will say no, because it will benefit us. But I don’t think it’s a long-term measure.”

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(From left to right) Diksha Dubey, Sakshi Sharma, Tanya Gupta, Pooja Agrahari.

Diksha Dubey, 24
bpo employee
Coach no: 4
From Noida Sector 59 to Mayur Vihar Phase 1

The journey: A native of Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, Dubey has been living in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar Phase-I area for the last three years. She now works at a private BPO firm in Noida Sector 60. Though her shift ends around 10.30 pm, on days that her work stretches on, she takes the last Metro. Like today.

“My office is around 10 minutes from the Noida Sector 59 Metro station. So, I either take a rickshaw for Rs 20 or walk down the distance if I am with colleagues. Rickshaws are generally available even at night. But if it gets very late, then it sometimes becomes difficult to reach the station,” she says, adding, “Metro is what I like travelling in best. My house is only seven to eight minutes from the Mayur Vihar Phase 1 station. Rickshaws and e-rickshaws are always available even late at night.” Dubey usually leaves home around 11.30 am for work.

Her Metro Bill: She has a travel card and spends about Rs 3,000 per month.

Life after Metro: “It’s very convenient and safe, especially for women. We don’t feel unsafe even while travelling late at night. Earlier the Metro was extremely affordable. But after the fare hike (in 2017), it has become a bit expensive,” Dubey says. On the proposed free rides for women, she says, “It’s a good move and it should happen. It will benefit women in general and working women like me, who travel six days a week.”

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The Delhi government has proposed to revoke fare for women travelling in metro and buses.

Sakshi Sharma, 21
garment exporter
Coach no: 3
From Noida City Centre to Akshardham

The journey: As an exporter of ready-made garments, Sharma doesn’t have a fixed Metro route or office timings. She frequently goes to crowded markets — like the ones in Noida — where she sells ready-made kurtis to shops. “I got late today, so I’ll stay over at my aunt’s home near Akshardham Metro station. I had to walk around 10 minutes to get to the Metro station but there’s no problem because I feel safe,” says Sharma, who was accompanied by a male friend.

Since she lost her parents around eight years ago, Sharma and her brother haven’t had a fixed home, and they stay at homes of relatives. Their aunt’s house in Pandav Nagar is roughly 10 minutes from the Akshardham metro station.

Her Metro bill: She has a travel card and spends around 2,400-3,000 per month.

Life after Metro: “It is the best mode of transport — it’s fast and it saves you from getting stuck in traffic jams. Some people may have problems with last-mile connectivity, but on the whole, it’s good,” says Sharma.

According to her, it makes more sense to cut the Metro fares by half for everyone, instead of making the ride free for women. She says, “Around 80 per cent women travelling by Metro are working women; they can afford to pay. Hum aadmiyon ke saath kandhe se kandha milaane ki baat karte hain to isme kyun nahi (We talk about being equal to men, why not here)?”

Tanya Gupta, 23
bank employee
Coach no: 1 (reserved for women)
New Ashok Nagar to Saket via Rajiv Chowk

The journey: Gupta, who works as a relationship manager at an ICICI Bank branch in Gurgaon, recently shifted to a paying-guest accommodation in Saket, from her previous accommodation in New Ashok Nagar. Originally from Meerut, Gupta has lived in various PG accommodations since she moved to Delhi five years ago.

Today, Gupta is returning from a visit to her old PG, which is around 10 minutes from the New Ashok Nagar Metro station. “I took an e-rickshaw from the PG till the Metro, and once I get off at Saket, I will have to take an auto till my new PG which is near IGNOU Road,” says Gupta, who is travelling with her friend and room mate. Gupta, who usually leaves home at 7.30 am and gets back by 6 pm, uses the Metro everyday, changing at Sikanderpur Metro station to catch the Gurgaon Rapid Metro till Phase III. From there, her office is around 15-20 minutes by auto.

Her Metro bill: She has a travel card and spends roughly Rs 2,400 a month.

Life after Metro: “Delhi has a lot of traffic and the Metro is the best option. It’s always on time, is fast and also safe. Moreover, it also has centralised AC which is important in this weather. Cabs are very costly,” she says. This is why Gupta approves of the proposal for free rides for women. “It will really help women, especially at night, when cab fares start surging,” she says.

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10: 52 pm: Last Metro from Noida Electronic City to Dwarka Sector 21. (Express Photo by Renuka Puri)

Pooja Agrahari, 30
homemaker
Coach no: 2
Akshardham to Dwarka Mor

The journey: Agrahari is returning from a visit to the Akshardham Temple with her husband, an e-rickshaw driver, two children, and her brother’s family who are visiting them from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. They left their home near Dwarka at 4 pm to visit the temple, which is right next to the Metro station, but got delayed since the temple is part of a huge complex. Being a homemaker, Agrahari doesn’t need to use the Metro regularly — a few times a month, at the most — and prefers buses which, she says, are cheaper.

She lives at Nangli Dairy, around 3 km from the Dwarka Mor Metro station, and will take an e-rickshaw home from the station, like she normally does, as it only costs Rs 10 per passenger. “Mil jaana chahiye (We should get one). Otherwise, we will walk,” she says.

Her Metro bill: As an infrequent user who buys tokens, she has no fixed monthly Metro bill.

Life after Metro: “It was much more helpful earlier when the fares were cheap, but since the fare hike happened, it has become almost impossible for us to take the Metro. The same route which earlier cost Rs 20-22, now costs Rs 50.” She is in favour of free Metro rides for women as, she says, “It will be very helpful for people like me who have had to reduce our travel because of the cost.”

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Sheetal Gaur, 35
works with an IT firm
Coach no: 1 (reserved for women)
Botanical Garden to Dwarka Sector 13

The journey: Gaur works with an IT firm in Noida’s Sector 126 and is travelling late because of an unusually long day at work. “I usually work from 9 am to 6 pm,” she says, but it takes her around two hours to reach her destination. “I take a shared auto from my office to Botanical Garden which costs Rs 30 and takes around 10-15 minutes to reach. I then take an auto from Dwarka Sector 13 Metro station to Dwarka Sector 3, where I live. That costs me around Rs 40,” she says.

Gaur, who takes the Metro six days a week and even on holidays, lives with her parents — father is a retired government servant and mother a homemaker — and brother, who works in a Gurgaon-based firm. Today, her brother will pick her up from the Dwarka Metro station since it will be almost 1 am by the time she reaches.

Her Metro bill: She has a card and spends roughly Rs 4,500 a month.

Life after Metro: “It is the fastest way of getting anywhere. I think, for me, it’s impossible to even imagine travelling from Dwarka to Noida without the Metro,” says Gaur. She believes that, in the long run, the proposed move to make Metro rides free for women is unsustainable and will only make it easier for thieves and chain-snatchers to catch rides. She adds, “It’s also against the spirit of equality. Instead of making it free, they should reduce fares for everyone. For women, focus should, perhaps, be on providing marshals in the coach or better last-mile connectivity.”

Anita, 67
homemaker
Coach no: 6
New Delhi to Subhash Nagar via Rajiv Chowk

The journey: Anita, a homemaker, is returning from a relative’s funeral in Jalandhar, Punjab. She boarded the Metro from the New Delhi Metro station, which can be accessed from the railway station. Her home in Subhash Nagar is around 10 minutes from the Metro station. “I will take an e-rickshaw which will cost me Rs 10. It should be available even now,” says Anita, whose husband died 15 years ago and who lives with her son – a labourer – and his family. Though she doesn’t use the Metro too frequently, she says she prefers it to the bus any day. This, however, is not possible as the Metro is “too costly to be a regular mode of travel”.

Her Metro bill: Anita buys tokens whenever she travels and has no Metro card.

Life after Metro: “Metro travel is very safe and convenient, but it’s not for people like me. I don’t even get my old age pension so I cannot afford to travel by Metro,” says Anita. She approves of the proposal to make metro rides free for women, calling it a “great initiative”. “At my age, comfort is important. The trains are airconditioned and have a special ladies coach as well as seats reserved for women in every coach. Some times men give up their seats for me,” she says.

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Though Anita often travels by buses, she finds them “uncomfortable”. “Besides, men misbehave too, but at least we don’t have to spend so much.”