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Two years since a woman many now call ‘Nirbhaya’ was assaulted, how different is the state of public transport and women’s safety in Delhi?
In November 2012, a month before Nirbhaya was assaulted, I happened to be in Delhi. It was a family holiday and we stayed in a hotel in Central Delhi.
On the first day, my husband, son and I took a taxi to the Red Fort. After the light-and-sound show, it was dusk by the time we walked out, but not too late (by Mumbai standards). Waiting in the busy traffic there, we were unable to get a bus or taxi. After a 40 minute wait in the cold, a private four-wheeler, a Maruti Omni, stopped and the driver speaking in a rural accent asked us if we needed a lift. In the absence of a meter, a deal was struck.
My son and husband got in the back seat, but the presence of some luggage on the seat prevented a third person (me!) from getting in there. Rather than hold up the traffic behind us, I quickly decided to get in the front seat.
The driver looked at me strangely, but I did not realise what was happening until he started asking me where we were from (our accents proclaimed our non-Delhi origins) and how long we were staying in Delhi. Used to the easy, almost-equal terms of Mumbai conversation, I did not think that it was strange and spoke to him.
Later, I realised that he must have thought me rather bold (even suggestive) for getting in the front seat with a man and conversing with him (in my jeans and T- shirt…without the barrier of a ghungat?!)
As we neared our destination, it came to my notice that the driver of the car was fondling himself while casting looks at me.
As we neared our destination, it came to my notice that the driver of the car was fondling himself while casting looks at me. My temper started rising. Before it could erupt (and leave us stranded on the road once more), we reached the drop-off point and he was spared.
A month later, the news of what happened to Nirbhaya exploded in the media. Had it been a different vehicle, it could have happened to me. It made me wonder what I had escaped that day. And what thousands of women in Delhi undergo every single day.
How can a capital city be so unsafe? Delhi should have been safe for travel and tourism, and safe for its citizens, especially female, but the lamentable transport infrastructure makes it a creepy city to be in after dark.
The buses which ply are crowded all the time. Hardly any of them stop where they are supposed to. After dusk, I noticed that there were hardly any women on the roads, and certainly very, very few women in the buses. On a walk back from India Gate one evening, it was eerie, in spite of the plethora of heavily guarded Member-of-Parliament Bungalows along the way.
So, how do Delhi women travel back and forth? What do they do to reach their place of work or study? Distances in Delhi are humongous, so how do they manage? If you have no private means of transport, do you then hole up in your home, waiting for daylight? What kind of Neanderthal routine is this? How can a city that does this to its women-citizens claim to be the capital of our country?
For me, a Mumbai woman, this concept of timings is rather alien. If you need to get somewhere, you just reach there, regardless of what time it is. Getting into a cab next to the driver is par for the course, and so is conversing with the driver. Even as a teenager, I have travelled in local trains at odd hours and walked home from the railway station. I have travelled by taxi and bus late at night, and not given it a second thought.
Mumbai is not the safest city in the world, but its egalitarian inclusiveness and air of brisk business makes its woman-friendly to a great extent.
Two years have passed since Nirbhaya was raped, but a Thomson Reuters study says that Delhi is the fourth most-unsafe-city in the world for women using public transport. Women here still feel unsafe and fear the city and its uncertainties. Groping, harassment, explicit remarks, teasing is still rampant.
Elections in Delhi are just around the corner. Every party is doing its chest-thumping routine and politicians are giving their best rendition of ‘we-are-the-best’ chorus.
Have they forgotten the lessons of yesterday as they zip past in their airconditioned cars? How many of them have their female relatives travelling by the so-called public transport of the city? Would they countenance such behaviour? Why then does the female tax-payer have to put up with it?
Which of them will address the present and future plight of half of its citizens, I wonder. How many more Nirbhayas will it take?
Pic of female commuters in Delhi courtesy Shutterstock
I am Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar. I love reading, meeting people, listening to music, watching plays,
I remember a trip to Delhi, where I had a similar experience. A driver hired for a few days was rude and had a habit of staring at all women passengers. When we asked the travel agency to change the driver, the replacement turned out to be worse….
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