Is The 'Free Metro For All Delhi Women' Move Good or Bad?
A couple of days ago, the Delhi government announced that it would attempt to make transport via the metro and buses free for all women.
In a move that is seen by many to be a push to gain seats in the Delhi assembly elections (2020) by the Aam Aadmi Party after a crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections last month, the reason that was stated for this proposal was an attempt to make public transport safer for women.
But how progressive is this move really?
In a country like India, women continue to be disadvantaged but not all women experience disenfranchisement in the same way. Providing provisions for increased mobility is a laudable proposition, yet on the other hand, as an empowered woman who pays her own bills, my knee-jerk reaction was that it would make me feel more disadvantaged at accepting handouts from the government. To me, equality also means having the means to pay the same fare as a man.
Yet, on further consideration it was hard to argue that this move would not help a large group of people. That was the intent in fact - to target the female populous.
Perhaps a deep dive into understanding the intersectional issues, could be the answer to this.
Let’s break it down.
Providing free public transport to women doesn't automatically ensure their safety. While there is a provision for a women’s compartment in the Delhi metro, several women (myself included) have reported cases of sexual harassment, stalking and more. Perhaps the monetary allowance that is to allow the government to make this service free can be used to provide security services that allow women to travel safely in the first place. Lack of proper roads and street lights often adhere the mobility of women, even when they can afford public transport.
As a tax-paying upper class, upper caste female citizen, I cannot but agree that this move is targeted at women from economically strained backgrounds. There are hundreds of young women in the city who have to battle their material circumstances in order to step out of their homes to study or work. Giving them the financial independence to travel may go a long way in helping them secure jobs, and eventually lead independent lives. However, an intersectional approach to this problem would be to provide women free metro cards in the same way that ration cards are provided: on the basis of one’s financial background. Yes, it would be a cumbersome process, but narrowing the pool of free travellers to the economically weaker sections of women will also help to effectively target this plan.
As the proposal talks about making the service free for women, it ignores a whole array of people who do not confirm to binary gender types, and continue to be disadvantaged.
Since the idea behind this move is to allow for more female passengers to use the metro system, one must also consider the actual space that they are to occupy once they are in the said metro. An increased number of women on the metro may lead to a situation where a single ladies compartment may not be able to cope. As I have mentioned before, simply having more women use the metro system will not automatically make it safe for us. Therefore, apart from the roads and lights that will literally enable the women to come to the metro, it is also important for the government to rethink the provisions within the actual train, since it may still be unsafe for women to travel in the general compartment.
Under such circumstances, a call to action is rather tokenistic of a government that seems to be trying hard to maintain its position in governance. Blanket laws and policies that are seemingly benevolent cannot and will not solve the gender gap in the country. While not all women require this facility, enough women do, and that is reason enough for us to be debating this issue today.
Yet, the need of the hour is to approach these issues with an intersectional approach in a country as vast and diverse as India.