Last year on Bhai Dooj, the Delhi Government initiated the free-ride scheme for women travelling in buses. Women will be given pink tickets in DTC and cluster buses and the Delhi Government will reimburse transporters based on the number of pink tickets issued.
For the uninitiated, the Delhi Government’s original proposal was to give free rides to women in DTC buses and the metro, and as suspected this scheme was rejected by the Centre instantly. In spite of the rejection, the Delhi Government managed to implement this scheme in DTC buses, they even deployed additional marshals for women’s safety and last week, they flagged off 100 new buses.
The initiative was met with a lot of criticism by the opposition and on social media. Delhi Government was called names for ‘seducing’ Delhi voters with freebies. We are a nation that loves muft, muft, muft (freebies) and yet, every Delhi Government scheme with subsidy is met with resistance and this one, in particular, had all genders annoyed.
Because, according to them, this scheme should be formulated on economic grounds and not restricted to genders!
“If you educate a woman, you educate a family, if you educate a girl, you educate the future.”
– Queen Rania of Jordan
When you reduce the financial burden on women, you reduce the financial burden on a household. India’s economy is derailing rapidly and the first people to get affected by this financial crunch would be women. There is a reason why girl child funds are provided for admission in schools. The girls in the family bear the burden of their families’ poverty. They are the first to be taken out of school, colleges and jobs if it is not economically viable.
Public transport is typically meant for use by all sections of the society. But what keeps the women apart from the finances is also patriarchy. A man from the same family can take an even more cheaper mode of transit like electric rickshaws or gramin sevas, the same are downright unsafe for women from the same family.
For men and women who don’t travel by local buses and have issues with women being given free public transport, here is a piece of advice, please look beyond your privilege. For others, it is high time to acknowledge that the absence of women in public spaces is not because they don’t want to be there. It is imperative for the state to acknowledge structural, economic and gendered inequalities and this is a step in that direction.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation report and Periodic Labour Force Survey data (2017-18), the Women Workforce Participation Rate (WPR) has always remained below the national average and recorded a significant decline of 10% between 2011-12 and 2017-18.
The reports also show that within the state, the lowest WPR is recorded among women of the low consumption class while the women of the high consumption class recorded the highest WPR during both time spans – 2011-12 and 2017-18.
The lack of financial stability strips us from most of our agency and then clubs this with the increasing crime rate and sexual assaults. The lack of accountability and the poor redressal system makes women feel like the onus of protecting oneself, lies with them. This restricts women to move freely, use public transport and travel without any fear. These restrictions often play at a psychological level and hamper a woman’s ability to take risks and eventually they let go of opportunities. These restrictions also affect women financially.
Ask any woman who has to walk or travel alone at night, it’s the constant dilemma between risking safety in public transport or choosing safety over financial pressure.
Ladies, ask yourself why do you prefer taking the ladies coach over other coaches no matter how cramped it is. We find safety in our clan, we find strength in our numbers. As the number of women travelling in buses increase, DTC buses will be seen as a safe space to travel and this will empower us to access spaces that are primarily dominated by men. It is high time we fight to get access to these spaces that are restricted for us after dark.
This scheme is not about a free bus ride, rather it is about the freedom to travel. We need to look at this scheme at a macro level; look at the bigger picture. As our mobility increases, it will lead us to explore more opportunities and that will create true empowerment.
Leaving aside the aforementioned reasons, the very idea of women being able to travel whenever they want, wherever they want without any dependence on the male members of their family is nothing short of revolutionary. Something has to be said for the privilege of mobility and how long overdue it is for women in the metropolitan capital of the world’s largest democracy.
I have often heard people complain that state should not show favouritism on the basis of gender, that would mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge the now institutionalised disparities of our societies. While the ideal case scenario is to extend this scheme to the economically weaker section, this is one small step to bridge the gender inequality.
There are some short term measures and some long term ones, this might seem like a short term measure but it is a promising scheme with long term benefits. It carries within itself the promise of changing women’s access and mobility. The path to reformation and emancipation isn’t linear. It is time we keep both our politics and our privileges aside and come together for our tribe. Let us create a space where no one can blame Nirbhaya for travelling late at night because it is a norm and not an exception.
As Sansa in Game of Thrones says, “When the snow falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.“ So let’s take every opportunity that we get to create a safe place for us, even if they are in the form of freebies.