Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) new announcement to make metro rides and Delhi Transport Corporation buses free of cost for women has stirred a lot of dialogue among the people. The decision aims to encourage women to use public transport and reduce instances of harassment.
Rightly being called a ‘landmark’ proposal, this would put Delhi in league with cities like Luxembourg city in terms of providing free public transport.
As someone who takes the metro nearly everyday – often at late hours – I see myself siding wholly with this decision.
In 2017, the central government had decided to hike prices of the Delhi metro in spite of the state government’s opposition to such a move. Since then, the number of women commuters has taken a hit. As of now, only 33% of metro commuters are women, according to AAP leader Atishi Marlena.
A direct consequence of this is that fewer women are able to undertake the last-mile commute, which is often covered by shared rides or on foot. I’ve yet to be in an UberPool or an e-rickshaw which has more women than it has men. My friends and I always carry pepper spray, even while walking home in broad daylight, simply because all we see around us are men – as drivers, vendors or just walking home like us. An increase in the number of women travelling by the metro would help reclaim these public spaces and also make that last mile commute safer.
However, my issue with the ongoing debate is weighing empowerment against equality.
Is it not more uplifting to introduce concessions rather than a blanket exemption? The simple answer to that, for me, is that the scheme is voluntary. The current outrage from women claiming that they are capable of paying their own metro fare comes from an extremely privileged position. This privilege needs to be checked. Most of us have the option and wherewithal to pick and choose our mode of transport, depending on our location, the distance we have to cover and the weather. I often take a cab if it’s too hot outside, or an auto if I know the metro would be too crowded at that hour. I have never taken the bus since I graduated high school.
However, the same options are not available to every woman.
If you are currently comfortable paying for your travel costs, then this scheme, by no means, curtails you from doing so. I pay roughly Rs 4,000 per month travelling to my college by metro. While this amount may be of almost no significance to some people, for others it surpasses their monthly income. This amount, or even a mere Rs 20 bus ride, determines whether they can afford to go to school, college or work. This measure, therefore, is more for them than for those of us whom it doesn’t necessarily affect as much.
However, this entire plan is yet to be proposed to the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation and would tentatively take two or three months to become operational. On top of that, there are many questions about how the Delhi government plans on implementing this in practice and how it would affect commuters and metro staff.
Despite your personal stance on this, the single, most untenable stand is the one that most cisgender savarna men, and sometimes even women, seem to take. A stand where they only accept gender sensitivity and its nature as a spectrum when it’s convenient for them. And in this case, it is convenient for them to say that men must simply ‘identify’ as a different gender every time they need to use the metro or the bus.
Memes circulating on the internet about how men need to simply dress as a woman to work their way around this change is transphobic in my opinion. It trivialises and makes a mockery out of what it means to identify as a separate gender. It also displays the epitome of insensitivity and how hostile they are towards changes that are not in their favour.
Finally, some are arguing that the timing of this decision is questionable.
In the wake of the assembly elections coming up in 2020, it is easy to call this a populist move. While this might be valid to an extent, it is essential to mention that a political party’s power lasts for five years. And simply because a change is proposed at the tail end of their tenure, does not mean it’s a move fuelled solely by the political intent of being re-elected.
All in all, this decision will benefit a lot of daily women commuters like me, and that’s why I support the move.
Ritul Madhukar studies philosophy at Miranda House, University of Delhi.
Featured image credit: Flickr