Free rides are good but first other things, say women

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced free travel on public buses and metro for women. The idea is worth emulating here, say Bengalureans 

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s radical proposal, though yet to be approved by the central government, has garnered much attention on social media. People are divided over the scheme — some say it is empowering while others feel it is an unnecessary privilege that can affect the capital’s finances adversely.

When Metrolife discussed the concept of privilege and the possibility of such a scheme in Bengaluru with women activists and sociologists, we received mixed responses.

It does not address any issue

Writer Jaseena Backer questions how free transport can assure safety. “Initiatives like concessional rates for students work well, but declaring something free for a major part of the population is not addressing anything here.” She opines that the move could actually work in contrary to the goal of women empowerment that the society is trying to achieve.

Mobility should be ensured for all

Narendar Pani, professor, National Institute of Advanced Sciences, says that the idea should be perceived in the context of the security situation in Delhi and that it is not something that will work for other cities with the same intensity.

A positive approach to women’s safety

Women’s activist Tara Krishnaswamy welcomes the idea as she feels that safety lies in numbers. “One of the ways to combat the issue of safety is by occupying the space.” She states that it could signal social change. “Sure, it could be made free for men too, which would be an effective way fight pollution, but getting more women to use public transport could make the space much safer.”

Is gender-specific privilege the right way to go?

Not everywhere but Delhi could use it, says Professor Narendar Pani.  “It should be viewed in a broader sense of equality and not just gender; everybody should get access to mobility and this might be much-needed for Delhi, given the security situation there.” The reasoning that privilege extended to one gender is a step backwards from achieving equality is not proper, says Tara. “This is not about gender equality or privilege at all, it is about women’s safety. CCTV cameras and policing are some ways to make public spaces safe for women but I believe free transport is a more positive way of strengthening it.”

Does Bengaluru need it?

Women’s studies expert Poornima (name changed) feels it will be a good idea to bring the scheme to Bengaluru too. She reasons that it could give greater access to a large number of women from the marginalised community to public places.

“However, we have a long way to go and many things to fix before that. For example, we need more buses after 8 pm in the city before we even talk about free transport.”

Tara adds, “The Government of Karnataka seems to be doing nothing for women’s safety. The BBMP has sanctioned Rs 667 crores under the Nirbhaya fund which is going to waste. Trying and experimenting is better than doing nothing. These are the kind of experiments where you can easily test and improve the method.”

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