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Delhi government has decided to provide free bus rides for women commuters with the choice of using its public service buses for free starting from the 29th of October.
Under this scheme, women can choose to either pay their bus fare or ride for free, in which case they will be given a pink ticket with a face value of 10 rupees. The government will then reimburse the transporters based on the number of tickets issued.
The government has also raised the number of marshals in these state buses to 13000. These marshals are deployed for the security of passengers, especially women, which will also enhance their sense of safety while using public transport. They are also in the process of installing CCTV cameras in these buses.
Delhi has the notorious reputation of being extremely unsafe for women. One way to change that situation would be to make sure that more and more women are allowed to reclaim that public space. Free rides and marshals on buses sends a clear message that no cost is too high to bear if it can help them feel secure.
It is no secret that buses, like other modes of public transport in India, are very unsafe for a woman. Malicious comments about their anatomy, attempts at molestation, and violence are all a part of the public transport experience for them and we can’t allow that to go on any longer. So something that makes it convenient for more women to occupy a greater public space will be a great help.
And when it comes to the argument of whether subsidy of any form is fiscally prudent for a government, we need to understand that in a country where women have to choose between buying a sanitary pad for themselves and providing food for their children, free and safe public transport is imperative and it is only humane to look after their well being.
Steps like these will help women access opportunities for education and employment with more freedom than before. And it’s not rocket science to understand that enabling more educated women entering our workforce will improve our economy while helping them achieve the economic empowerment that they need to.
Regardless of the financial strain that the Delhi government may have to bear, this move was long overdue for women passengers. Enabling this will have a positive effect on the economy, so in the long run, it will pay off.
Buses can be a very threatening space for women. The harassment that they go through on a daily basis should be stopped at any cost. We can no longer compromise with their security.
If measures like these can help reassure them to come out of their houses and make their presence felt in the public sphere, then we need more such measures. And it will also be a warning to those men trying harass women in any way – there are more of us now to deal with you. Of course the situation will not improve overnight but we will have to take the first step.
The government of Delhi has made a promising start but they need to do more. They need to expand the number of buses to at least 11000 as mandated by Supreme, Court along with introducing more women-only buses apart from stationing CCTVs in as many buses as possible. Only then can they begin to make public transport more secure for females.
The government also needs to ensure that public buses (with marshals) should run 24 hours a day and that too frequently. Doing so will allow women to venture out, even late in the night, with a greater sense of security. It assumes even more importance because in the Nirbhaya incident, the victim was beaten, gang-raped and brutally assaulted in a private bus that she had to take due to lack of public transport.
We cannot allow such an incident to happen again, and as such the necessity of a 24-hour bus service can’t be understated.
This is why we need measures like free bus rides for women to be made permanent and not just a one-off gimmick to win elections. Many people have rightly demanded that this rebate be extended to senior citizens and students. I would go a step further and say that buses should be made free for all citizens of the state. This may place a heavier financial burden on the government but this is something that we can live with.
Most of the people traveling on these buses are from the economically weaker sections. They need it to go to their schools, colleges, workplaces, hospitals. Indeed, the bus fares might not seem a huge burden for people like me, but its also true that we don’t use buses that frequently because we have the option of calling a cab, catching the metro or using our vehicle, while they don’t.
The ones who do use these buses do not have the luxury to disregard the financial strain of using the most basic of our public transport services and it would make sense to reduce their burden regardless of gender or age.
We cannot allow women be forced to live in the ‘shadow of sexual assault’ any longer and stay at home when they want to venture out in the open. It is a crime to keep almost half of our population stuck indoors and make them feel enslaved – both in their homes and their minds.
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