One Indian state is making an effort to protect women on public transportation.
On Monday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that in an attempt to encourage more women to use public transportation, the government wants to make riding on metro trains and public buses free for all women. The program would cost the state Rs 7 billion (USD $101 million) this year and still has to be approved by the federal government. Residents and experts are skeptical of the proposal.
“Public transport is considered the safest for women and keeping that in mind, the government had decided that … all buses and the metro will be made free for women,” Kejriwal told reporters Monday, according to the New York Post.
When women avoid public transportation, it harms the economy by limiting their financial independence, ability to support their families, and employment opportunities, author and social scientist Deepa Narayan told Global Citizen via email.
Metro use has been down by 300,000 rides per day ever since the metro raised its fares in 2017. Only 33% of the riders on Delhi Metro are women, according to Kejriwal. For many, safety is a bigger concern than price.
“Policymakers have been totally blind to the economic costs of lack of women’s safety on the economy, their lower labor force participation. As women avoid work, that involves travel through routes and transportation that they perceive as unsafe,” Narayan said.
India’s rampant gender-based discrimination has made the country the world’s most dangerous for women, according to a 2018 poll. In a 2009 Delhi survey, 95% of women said their mobility was limited by fear of harassment in public places.
The new metro plan doesn’t address safety directly. But on Monday, Kejriwal said that his government is installing 70,000 cameras this week and 150,000 more soon to improve public safety.
“CCTV cameras can act as a deterrent, but get social scientists and psychologists involved to design behavioral change messages for male and female metro riders,” Narayan said.
Kejriwal’s announcement has gained some support but is under criticism by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. They called the plan a “populist gimmick” to win votes for next year’s legislative poll, a sentiment that residents echoed on Twitter.
Freedom for women to work in far flung areas, get there safely, spend leisure time in this beautiful city, will not only increase per capita income dramatically over time, it's an issue of basic rights. Brilliant move. #Metro#DelhiMetro#FreedomnotProtectionhttps://t.co/HoKxrx8yYt— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) June 3, 2019
What kind of tax-funded mad populism is this? Free travel for women on Delhi Metro and DTC buses will not assure safety. It will only assure Rs 1600 crore of tax money being wasted per year. Hopefully @ArvindKejriwal will not get requisite permission. #Delhi#Indiahttps://t.co/TDZGAb2WdV— Kanchan Gupta (@KanchanGupta) June 3, 2019
While some experts say that the new metro fare will help low-income women, commuters refuse to accept free rides.
Don’t take the voters for a ride ! I’d like to pay for my metro and bus ride . Thank you very much !! #DelhiMetro— Stutee Ghosh (@rjstutee) June 3, 2019
Eliminating train and bus fares are not the solution for getting low-income women to take public transportation, according to Narayan.
“If you want poor women to take the metro, educate them on how to use the metro, take the fear out of it,” she suggested.
I don't think what CM Arvind Kejriwal is doing about the Delhi Metro is right. This is gender stereotype. I am also a girl and I don't think,this will provide security to us. If they want to provide something free to girls then free us from rapes, assaults, acid attacks. Like👇 pic.twitter.com/BoK2g2Mdiq— Sarita Mohanty (@SaritaMohanty14) June 4, 2019
The government needs to invest in the protection of women against sexual violence, according to Narayan. Panic buttons that women can use to alert authorities when they’re at risk could be more beneficial than free rides, she argued.
“Money would be better spent on educating men in local languages on civil behavior in metros, though short videos and encouraging men to interrupt harassment rather than be silent observers,” Narayan said.