Written by Manimanjari Sengupta
Sitting by the window aboard a DTC to east Delhi’s Nirman Vihar, the woman looks relieved. Getting a window seat during office hours is no mean achievement, as most daily commuters will attest. This is a route she has been taking for the past 12 years. Every day, she wakes up at 6.30 am to prepare breakfast for her family, cook lunch and then she heads out for work. Commuting, she claims, is a nightmare. But something changed in the past one year. “Kejriwal has made buses a lot safer for women,” says the woman who did not want to be named.
Her sentiments are echoed by Seema Gupta who takes DTC buses everyday, up and down to her workplace in ITO. “The presence of bus marshals really has made a difference. The other day, when a guy was misbehaving with a woman on the bus, the marshal intervened and thrashed him up.”
“Kejriwal has installed CCTV cameras in bylanes, given us wifi access, deployed safety marshals on buses and made rides free for women. I definitely feel a lot safer now,” says Gupta. But there is more work to be done, she believes. “The government should also provide cab services to those kids who work night shifts”.
On the question of free rides, both women confirm that they have been traveling for free for the past few months. “When we’ve been given an opportunity, why not grab it,” asks Gupta.
Another retired professional, who commutes to and fro by DTC buses at least once a week, has a contrarian view. “Rather than making bus rides free, the Delhi government should focus more on managing requirements and frequency of buses on routes,” says the woman, who also does not want to be named. Sometimes there are five buses on the same route, followed by excruciatingly long waiting times, she explains.
“People are acting like they will buy big houses with all the money they are saving. Please charge me for my ticket, free rides make no difference to me.” Asked whether she purchases her tickets, however, she says she doesn’t anymore and avails three free rides.
In their attempt to remedy Delhi’s notoriety for violence against women, since they were voted to power in 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party government proposed and implemented measures to make public spaces and transport facilities safer and more accessible to women. This included installation of three lakh CCTV cameras and two lakh street lights across the city, deployment of 13,000 bus marshals, and making bus rides free for women.
Around 42 lakh individuals ride buses in Delhi daily on an average. According to official estimates, around 33 per cent of the total ridership comprises women. Women comprise only 11 per cent of the workforce of Delhi, a city of nearly 2 crore people, as per an Indian Express report.
We hop off at the ITO bus stop and meet 18-year-old Varsha, who commutes to and from her college on a daily basis on DTC buses, and buys her tickets whenever she can. When asked why she doesn’t always choose to avail of the free ride scheme, she says, “I buy my ticket whenever I can because I have financial security. But for a lot of women it has been beneficial. Girls are often not allowed to go anywhere. With free bus rides, families will be more eager to support girls to go out and achieve something, because they are not having to pay any money.”
As per an Indian Express report, a detailed study published last year by the Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP) and backed by the Government of India shows how women forego opportunities to work outside their neighbourhoods if they perceive transport fares and services to be expensive and unreliable. A 2017 study by World Bank economist Girija Borker in Delhi’s colleges covering 4,000 students shows that female students are willing to choose a lower quality college, travel longer and spend much more than men in order to travel by safer route.
Asked about their views on what other measures the Delhi government should take to ensure better safety of women in public places, Varsha says the proposed plan to install CCTV cameras in buses could work wonders in being able to identify miscreants and pickpockets. “While we are yet to achieve gender equality, I don’t think too many subsidies should be doled out to women, because that makes men uncomfortable,” she adds.
“Delhi Police should be held accountable when anything happens in their area. It is their responsibility to ensure safety, that is what they are paid a salary for. And there should be some other alternative in areas where there is less deployment of police,” is Savitri Devi’s opinion.
While many of these women said they felt safe and were quite comfortable traveling alone on DTC buses during the day, most of them said they don’t take the bus post sundown.
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