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How India Is Failing Its Pedestrians And Public Transport Users Every Single Day

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By Aparna Gupta

Indians sit on the roof of a overloaded bus in New Delhi April 2, 2001. Commuters in the Indian capital were stranded for a second day running on Monday as thousands of buses and taxis went off the roads under a court order to switch to cleaner fuel. Some 15,000 private and state-run buses and thousands of taxis and three-wheelers had been ordered by the Supreme Court to change to compressed natural gas from diesel by April 1 in a drive to clean the capital's dirty air. PK/JD - RTR13OCB
Indians sit on the roof of a overloaded bus in New Delhi. Source: Reuters

Amidst the glamour and hype of increased FDI inflows and ease of doing business, an unnoticed bottom left corner of the newspaper recently read “a cluster bus ran over seven people in North Delhi after its driver died at the steering wheel due to a suspected heart attack.” The incident, though not a one off happening, reflects the much deeper malaise currently being faced by public transport system in India. Researches around the world have convincingly established that expanding public transit systems in cities can lead to hidden economic benefits ranging from $1.5 million to $45 million every year. Thus, the glaringly visible lack of safe, accessible and well-established public transport system in Indian cities is not only bad governance but bad economics.

National Crime Records Bureau states that in 2014, 12,456 people were killed in road crashes involving buses (the only mode of public transport recorded in the report), thus accounting for almost 9% of the total road crash deaths in the country. However, ensuring safer public transport has still not received the attention it deserves, in both the government and the public discourse.

Each day more than 35 people are killed in accidents involving buses in India due to a number of factors ranging from but not limited to driver fatigue, bad road and vehicle design and lack of driver training. For instance, most of the buses currently running in India are fabricated on chassis which is more suitable for trucks, thus compromising on the safety and comfort of passengers. Moreover, both heavy motor vehicles such as trucks and buses, and non-motorised transport are made to use the left most lane on Indian roads, exposing vulnerable road users to accidents. According to a study undertaken by IIT Delhi, in Bengaluru, about 25 percent of the victims of fatal crashes involving buses were pedestrians. The alarmingly high numbers of fatalities caused by the Blue Line Buses in Delhi led to the tag of killer line before the service was phased out by the State Government in 2011.

The pathetic conditions under which public transport drivers operate is hidden from no one. The poor salaries force drivers into long and multiple shifts leading to driver fatigue and higher chances of accidents. The lack of institutionalised driver training and issuance of licenses without driver tests leads to untrained and inefficient drivers behind the wheels, making the use of public transport unsafe for both passengers and other road users. The incident that happened in September in North Delhi speaks volumes about the existing apathy regarding physical fitness of drivers.

A rescue worker from the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) stands on an overturned damaged passenger bus after an accident at Gandhinagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat February 11, 2011. At least two people died and 13 others were injured after the passenger bus they were travelling in collided with a truck, police said on Friday. REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT) - RTXXQ26
Image source: REUTERS/Amit Dave

The apathy towards safety in public transport reflects the failure of our democratic process which ignores the needs of the majority of city residents who are pedestrians, bicyclists and public transport users. According to the UN State of the World Population report, nearly 41% of country’s population will reside in urban areas by 2030. Given the rapid pace of urbanisation and the desperate need for expanded and safe transit, it is crucial that existing concerns are addressed and a safe public transport system is established in the country.

Simple low-cost technological solutions, such as installation of pneumatic doors and modified low floor bus body design, will go a long way in making public transport safer in a country where large crowds precariously hanging for their lives on rickety buses is a common site. Similarly, separation of buses from non-motorized road users and provision of safe pedestrian and bicycling facilities on arterial urban roads will not only help reduce the number of fatal crashes significantly, but also improve access to public transport system. Lastly, there is a need to ensure better working conditions for drivers and an overhaul of driver licensing system so that only trained drivers are behind the wheels.

Given the rapid growth of India’s mobility needs, it is important that the country’s transit system responds effectively and swiftly. Today public transport users are largely people who are using these modes not out of choice, but because of financial constraints. A successful public transport system is not only crucial for addressing the growing levels of congestion and pollution, but also for ensuring safer commute for all road users.

About the author: Aparna Gupta is Senior Associate, Policy and Research at SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to improving Road Safety in India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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