When we think of cities, we imagine and visualise fancy pictures of urban life that are rooted in industrialisation, changing notions of identities and excellent transportation and communication facilities.
The city of Delhi has a well-maintained transport system with buses, metros, cycle rickshaws, shared cabs and taxis/autos connecting different parts of the city to each other.
The buses are one of the most popular forms of public transport in Delhi. Despite the popularity, many women belonging to the middle class, do not use buses to travel around in Delhi.
I started using the bus only after coming to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as I realised that taking autos regularly from JNU to connect with the rest of the city was not a very cost-effective idea. There are no rickshaws within JNU. These are stories of some of my travels and experiences using the bus, more specifically, bus number 615 and autos in the capital city of India.
The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus number 615 runs from Poorvanchal Hostel of JNU to Minto Road near Connaught Place. The first thing that will strike anyone using this bus route is the low frequency of bus no. 615.
One has to wait for at least 30 minutes at every stop before it comes, even within the University premises. Infact, I have waited for more than an hour once at the Shivaji Park bus stand for the bus to arrive.
While speaking to one of the regular commuters, Ananya (names of all the respondents have been changed to protect their privacy), a student of the University itself, told me that a few years back, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) had timekeepers at the Poorvanchal Hostel bus stop, who used to manage the time between buses.
However, they were taken away by the Union after some time and therefore bus drivers now take their own time to complete the route. She also said that this becomes a problem for her as most often she is late and ends up taking autos.
Raj, an ex-student of the University who was taking a bus to JNU to meet his friends, said that about five to six years back, there were more buses because the blue line buses were also functioning. He said, “I am not saying they were good, but at least they were there. The frequency of 615 should be increased.” Many other commuters too spoke about the need for increasing the number of buses to and from JNU so that their travel time gets reduced.
Apart from the bad frequency of the bus, many women also spoke about the difficulties of travelling in the night.
Karishma, a Munirka based office worker, narrated an incident to me. “Mein ek din raat ko 9 baje bus me chadhi Safdarjung se. Bus me koi aur aurat nahi thi. Sab log itne ajeeb tarike se mujhe ghur rahe the ki mein agle stop me utar gayi aur auto le liya. Bhale hi jyada paise kharch hue par jaan sab se jada important baat hain. Aaj kal kya kya sunne ko milte rehta hain”. (One day I got up in the bus at 9:00 p.m. in Safdarjung. There was no other woman in the bus. Everyone was looking at me weirdly. I got down at the next stop and took an auto. Although I spent more money but life is more important than anything else.)
Since I had myself taken the bus late in the night many times, I could easily identify with her sentiments. The fear and insecurity that women face in accessing public spaces prevent them from availing the benefits of being an urban citizen. They are not seen as legitimate users of the space, except at certain times and for certain activities. Hence follows the odd looks when a woman takes a bus or an auto alone in the night.
Thus, even public facilities like transportation become male premises and are transformed into semi-public places used only by men. There is, therefore, no wonder that auto wallahs exploit this loophole.
While taking an auto from Hauz Khas metro station to JNU, in the day time it is not much of a problem. There are plenty of autos waiting outside the metro station, looking for customers, and there is intense competition amongst the drivers.
I had noticed that most auto wallahs approach more women and hence asked one of them the reason behind this. He told me that it is easier to negotiate the price with a woman as most often she takes an auto. On the other hand, a man will take a bus or a shared auto. “Larke to ghum fir ke jate rahenge, larkiyo ko time pe pahuchna hain to wo de dete hain paise.” (Boys will loiter and roam around, but girls have to reach on time so they give whatever we ask for.)
What I realised from these experiences was that our cities still have to go a long way before we can call them ‘smart cities’ or ‘millennium cities.’ Why should I as a woman be deprived of using the bus in the night and pay more for an auto? The first step to becoming a ‘world class’ city is providing good public service that includes transportation. As the experience of 615 shows, Delhi still lacks behind in this regard and as a citizen who deserves equal treatment, I feel that the city’s transport system needs improvement.