Edit/Op-Ed

Is Free Transport a Way to Make places more Women Friendly?

Prashant Kumar for BeyondHeadlines

A commotion can be witnessed after Mr Kejriwal announced free transport in Delhi for woman by citing the reason of women safety. Few stated that it is a bogus plan, some said the plan will not work out, and a number of people even questioned; how this is even related to women safety. 

Interestingly, few groups also claimed that it is just to woo the voters, and if it is not why not to extend it to cover all the Delhites. Some demanded why not to make it on class wise. Let us have clarity on these questions, first. 

“In a democracy, the government has to work for people and if any government does any good to any group”, it can be termed as “wooing the voter”. However, if women security, as cited by Kejriwal, would have not been an issue of this society, and still, one creates the aura for this issue and presented a plan like that, one may have questioned this. But, this is not the case, women suffer on daily basis from daily wages to low income for the same post, from curfew to a strict prohibition to come out, from “ghar ki izzat ko ghar me rahne do”. The financial crisis is one of the reason in addition to social causes. Cessation of one of these aspects, I think, certainly brings women to public areas, therefore making public spaces more democratic. 

Those who passionately stick to class-wise society often miss the point that Indian Society is not strictly a class society; we are divided in castes, tribes genders and many others. Think about a schedule tribe women making Delhi all the way from Jharkhand or Meghalaya. She does not only have a financial problem, but less number of women in Metro also may make her uncomfortable. And what about vulgar comments and remarks that she has to face! Do you think a man has to go through with all these? Can you imagine a case when a man think thrice before entering a Metro or bus because there are many men? Let the answer be thought by the reader. 

Economically weak people do have a problem, but their problem is not the same. When we are talking about specifically this case, we need to talk about economically weak men. But again, think about the objective of the plan – WOMEN SAFETY. Hence, one should not divert the issue present at hand.

It has already been mentioned about increment in the ratio between male and female in public spaces. Let us understand what does it mean. Increase in the numbers of women in public transports will necessarily increase the numbers of women in public (They will not vanish from Metro or buses). This will change the material reality of public places and will make these spaces more democratic.

Let me set out the dictum – “The more in number the less possibility of getting (publicly) harassed”. Increase in gender ratio will certainly crack the backbones of molesters who are adamant to fondle women bodies and have the courage to pass lewd remarks. Even if it happens, a woman is more likely to oppose it in front of larger ratio than the lesser.

This aspect brings out the psychological benefits achieved by an individual and women in general. Firstly, a particular girl/woman will feel more secure among a higher gender ratio and courageous to oppose any sort of oppression. Secondly, a women-friendly environment strengthens their psyche to start feeling a subject rather than an object, thus, makes them more confident. 

Just imagine these small things making a collective psyche where each woman imagines an environment which is equally full of women, courageous and supportive, the fear and feeling of uncomfortable-ness will slowly disappear. This will be a huge achievement at a collective level in a recent future.

Not only it will change the collective psyche of women, but also the collective psyche of men who will constantly experience a large number of women in public questioning their prejudices and making them rethink will certainly allow a huge change to take place. 

Changes in personal psychology and collective psychology of men and women will bring down a cultural environment where seeing a woman and not thinking of harassing them will be a “new normal”. A cultural environment which will be much safer for women in public spaces, and in turn, even in few cases of private spaces. 

Getting free services in public transport will lower down the numbers of private vehicles in use which are highly unsafe and uncomfortable. Imagine in a three seats auto or tempo, 4 or 5 person are adjusted! Think of the subtle way of molesting and harassing them in the absence of resources. Needless to say that women are less paid than men, and if they are working, it is expected from them to maintain household which, therefore, forces them to save money. So, they choose cheaper means to achieve other’s expectation, hence forced to use unsafe means. This may help them even to save a respected amount of money to manage the household. 

This saving, however small in the eyes of privileged will be much for a woman who maintains the household (and numbers are really high). There are many families where violence occurs simply because of this reason – not maintaining financial resources well for the household. This will definitely increase their maintaining power and may bring down the numbers of violence on this reasons. Hence, securing private space for women free of violence. And to add on, the change in collective men psychology of experiencing others in many numbers will also help in maintaining the violence-free spaces even in private places such as house, office and so on. 

(The writer is a PhD Research Scholar at Centre for Philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

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