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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 28 New Delhi June 29, 2019

Arvind Kejriwal’s Landmark Move

Saturday 29 June 2019

by Ayushi Golwara

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal recently announced that women will be allowed to travel for free on the Delhi Metro, Delhi Transport Corporation buses which sparked a lot of discussion and debate. The Chief Minister said he has given officials a week’s time to make a detailed proposal on how the scheme can be implemented and “they are also seeking suggestions from people, regarding implementation,” he said, according to ANI.

In the press conference, Kejriwal indicated that the primary reason for the scheme was enhancing women’s safety by enabling and encouraging them to use modes of transport that may have been inaccessible to them earlier due to high prices. However, another point that needs to be given importance is that this subsidy will not be imposed. “We encourage those, who can afford, to buy tickets and not take subsidy so that others could benefit,” CM remarked.

Why do we Need such a Move?

Delhi was found to be one of the most unsafe megacities for women out of 19 others, according to a survey released by Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017. Every woman after stepping out of their homes in the street of Delhi always have one thing in common, that is, the fear of sexual harassment. As a result this costs their economic mobility in the Capital. The studies have found that women weighed the quality of the college they were attending against the perceived safety of the route to that institution. They are forced to compromise quality for safety.

Many women added that they avoided travelling alone and they agreed that public transport surely has a road for inclusivity. Not everyone can afford the privilege of a car or even a private auto rickshaw.

According to a 2017 study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDS), “Women in urban India turn down better employment opportunities further away from home in favour of lower-paid local opportunities as the public transport system is often unreliable or unaffordable.”

A research study conducted by Manish Madan and Mahesh K. Nalla in New Delhi in 2016 on situational conditions of female sexual victimisation in public spaces found that only 27 per cent women felt safe using public transport, compared with 51 per cent of men.

These studies make it clear why we do need to bring in a policy as inclusive like this. The focus of this intervention is mainly to empower women, and the intent is to encourage them to come out into public spaces more frequently, and thereby promote equal access to these spaces and consequently enhance women’s safety.

In Response to the Criticisms against the Free Metro and Bus Ride for Women

There have been divided responses on this proposal. People, especially women, who are criticising this move, are speaking from a position of privilege. Women arguing that metro rides and bus fares are cheap, are elitist. Kejriwal’s move doesn’t demean the idea of equality for two reasons. The idea is to provide an optional travel concession to women because of socio-economic and occupational weaknesses. The move doesn’t oversee equality but in fact provides a path for equality. The people who can’t understand this needs to redefine their notion of a responsible citizen and civic sense. If any woman thinks that she can afford her ride, she is welcome to do so as the subsidy is optional in nature and not imposed.

According to the last conducted 2011 Census, the sex ratio in Delhi is dreadful which puts it at 861 females per 1000 males. According to a report by the Institute of Human Development, the Female Labour Force Participation Rate in Delhi in 2011-2012 was 11.2 per cent, substantially below the national average of 25.51 per cent. This implies that there are fewer women in public spaces in Delhi than there are men. The clear reason being less women are able to utilise the public spaces because of safety issues and lack of transportation facilities, and not everyone has financial standing to be able to afford those transportation facilities. By influencing access to educational and economic opportunities, the free metro and bus ride schemes may be able to make an impact on perceived and actual safety of women in Delhi.

Few Considerations

 

There are people who suggest having a free scheme for children and senior citizens and poor instead is also needed while bringing about social welfare measures. It can be well-assumed that providing free rides for women will lead to a sudden surge in traffic. This, without any change in infrastructure and logistics, can create massive crowd management problems for the DMRC staff at stations.The apprehension of the fiscal pressure that this policy will put on the state’s finances needs to be analysed.

Way Forward

Many women do not have the financial freedom to decide where they can move about. If the women are free from paying a high price point for mobility, it will aid the independence of women, prompting them to step out more. It will empower women to overcome poverty by choosing efficient modes and routes of transportation. Such a social intervention will ensure minimum that no girl child is losing access to primary, secondary or higher education, or employment opportunities due to lack of transportation facilities.

While the scheme will not directly lessen sexual harassment in the public spaces, it will, over the years, encourage more women into the public realm. This scheme has the potential to be a game-changer for women’s mobility and opportunities in a city infamous for crimes against women. Women get paid less than their male counterparts. Whether the woman is a student, a single working mother, this subsidy would help them save a remarkable percentage of their income paving their way out of
poverty.

Ayushi Golwara is pursuing Masters from the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She completed her graduation from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University.

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