Controlling women’s mobility has been one of the ways of practicing oppression over women for many years. It not only gives a patriarchal control over her daily routine but also does not give a woman agency in her own life. If not direct, then this control is enabled through indirect ways. One of them is creating unsafe spaces for women. The fear of violence in public spaces prevents women from travelling to certain spaces and at certain times. Delhi, also known as the ‘rape capital of India’, had its one of a kind ‘free ride’ scheme which focused on women commuters. Delhi’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia said in a tweet “that the scheme will ensure women’s safety”. However, it does raise the question whether providing free bus rides will directly assure safety of women in public spaces.
The free cost travel scheme was launched by the Delhi government on October 29, 2019. The scheme provides women with no cost travel in Delhi DTC buses via a pink ticket worth 10 rupees. This amount is then later reimbursed by the Delhi government to the Delhi Transport Corporation. The government believes that this scheme will help female students to travel free of cost and safely.
The aspect of safe mobility also goes hand in hand to the aspect of affordability. Many women from lower and middle income groups choose other unsafe modes of commuting in order to save the last penny. But how safe are the buses? A 2014 study by Thomas Reuters Foundation ranked Delhi as the 4th most dangerous in the world for women in terms of transport system. Every girl living in Delhi and travelled through DTC buses has faced some of violence in some way or the other. Delhi government has appointed a marshal in every DTC bus to ensure no such practice takes place. The government has appointed 13000 marshals in Delhi to establish safe transport for women.
Free bus rides will definitely increase the number of women travelling through public buses. The increase in number of women passengers will thereby increase the feeling of security. “If you have more women in the streets and more women traveling around, there will be less harassment in general,” said Nundy, a speaker at the annual Trust Conference hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2019. However, more women on the streets does not solve the whole problem. The national capital’s dark spaces, dimly lit roads and less number of police personnel at night make the city very unsafe for women. In such cases, the government will have to ensure safer public spaces for women holistically rather than only targeting free commuting for women in Delhi buses.
Women’s empowerment can be achieved when she has the agency to access all her resources. India, as a developing nation, does not include many financially independent women in households. And those who do work are often told to choose careers that can make them come home soon, i.e. before the “curfew time”. Therefore, providing an overall safe environment in public spaces will successfully ensure women’s participation in education and workforce.