By Anoushka Raj, ENE, 1st year, and Srishti Mittal, PSCT, 2nd year
Scrolling through our friends’ Instagram stories a few days ago, we noticed a rather disturbing trend. Every single story sang the same refrain: a screenshot of the Delhi CM’s announcement about making metro and bus travel free for women, and a caption condemning it. While the move has its pros and cons, we were surprised to see that everyone had one common problem with it: “How is this equality? This is just sexism in the name of feminism.” Girls usually added in, “I don’t support this, I can pay for my metro ticket.”
The girls who said that, we agree with them. As women coming from upper-middle class families with parents who have prioritized and supported our education every step of the way, we definitely don’t need this subsidy. Luckily for us and every ‘elite’ woman who thinks that the scheme is a setback for feminism and gender equality, the subsidy is optional; if we wish to pay for our tickets, we can do so. This is the basic principle of the working of subsidies, and is a way for responsible citizens to ensure that the scheme reaches its target audience.
Upper-class women with access to social media often undermine a large class of women who have still not reaped the full benefits of feminism. Amidst the hue and cry of the internet, the plight of those who face bitter adversities are often overshadowed. At one end are the people who will fight tooth and nail at any sign of positive discrimination, jumping onto the wagon of if women are equal, they don’t need any ‘privileges’. The other end is that of ‘radical’ feminists, who view any policy that favours women with rose coloured glasses and fail to condemn even the most obvious of flaws. One gets torn between the two and the internet becomes a hive of petty squabbles rather than being a collective voice of dissent for the needy.
It is ironic that a form of public transport - the Delhi Metro, which was meant for everyone - has long been an elitist form of transport that divides the rich and the poor. Gender further intensifies this divide, since the cost of commuting is just another reason why women are discouraged from stepping out to work or study. Making commuting easier and affordable urges poorer women to go out more, creating an outlet for reaching out to less well-off sections and providing them with equal opportunities.
We know what you’re thinking - “why don’t they just take the bus?”
Because the metro is safer: there is a ladies’ coach, and there’s a set route that the driver cannot change at will. The Chief Minister said that he expects the number of female commuters using the metro to go up by 1 lakh. This reasonable and rational ratio increases the visibility of women, which is a tangible change in a way that installing CCTVs and providing pepper sprays is not. Surveillance does not necessarily guarantee safety; the strength lies more in numbers.
Another common refrain is, “what about the men who can’t afford to use the metro?” While there are many social groups (including persons with disabilities and students from the economically weaker sections) who would benefit from this subsidy were it extended to them, the current focus of the scheme is on making Delhi safer for women. Although men aren’t completely safe on the streets either, often becoming victims of molestation and sexual violence, they certainly have a higher number of safe spaces than women do.
However, the timing seems to be rather strategic, keeping in mind the forthcoming elections. The rules of implementation have not been put in place, which could eventually lead to a haphazard logistical nightmare.
Also, the scheme does not take into account the transgender and nonbinary communities. From leering men in the general coaches to reproachful women in the ladies’ coach, transgenders already face a multitude of issues in the Delhi Metro, and little has been done to address their concerns. The move could ostracise them even further.
A major issue is the financial viability of the subsidy. Former Delhi Metro chief E. Sreedharan, popularly called the ‘Metro Man’ for his contribution towards setting up the Delhi Metro, strongly opposes the scheme, saying that he had taken a firm decision that no one would be given travel concession. This was done in order to maximise revenue, so that the Metro would make sufficient surpluses to pay back the loans taken from Japan International Cooperation Agency.
"If the Delhi government is so keen to help lady commuters, I would suggest Delhi government can pay directly to the lady commuters the cost of their travel rather than make travel free on the Metro," Sreedharan said.
Financial viability and the misuse of taxpayer’s money still seem to be legitimate problems with the scheme, as is overcrowding. It might take months to show effect and by then, we may have a totally new government. Since the DMRC’s losses will be reimbursed by the Delhi Government, it is true that the government will be gambling with a major chunk of the taxpayer’s money. However, it is ironic that the people who wholeheartedly accepted spending ₹2,989 crore on a giant statue are calling this move a waste of taxpayer’s money.
The problem of handling the safety situation by making a system of public transport free is novel and perhaps has no previous model to bank on, but might still be effective if properly implemented. In an FAQ shared by the Delhi Government, they state “More women in any public spaces automatically makes those spaces safer for women.” This is a step towards helping women reclaim public spaces, and we, for one, welcome this spirit wholeheartedly.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of DTU Times or Delhi Technological University.