By Nidhi Kinhal
Public transport measures can be beneficial for women in two ways at once — employing more women can lead them towards financial independence, and good public transport can solve a lot of safety concerns for working women. Just last month, the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation decided to club the roles of conductors and drivers, affecting opportunities for women. A University in Lucknow, on the other hand, thinks that the best way to avoid “untoward incidents” and deal with safety issues is to send them home before it gets dark.
Those are the typical rash responses that are afforded to the problem, instead of making larger structural changes that, at the very least, give women safe spaces to carry on with their routines, without being obstructed in paternalistic ways.
All Indian cities could learn a thing or two from Mumbai’s latest measure that’s in the works. The general manager of BEST, Surendrakumar Bagde, said that the city will probably get 100 buses — both AC and non-AC ones — for women commuters only. The buses, which are called ‘Tejasvini’ are being procured as part of the state government’s initiative in phases, and “will be deployed on busy office-going routes for women commuters during peak hours”. Although the buses will ply only during peak hours, 7 am to 11 am and 5 pm to 9 pm, to Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Nariman Point, Lower Parel, Malad… similar buses will appear soon in Navi Mumbai, Thane, and other areas.
What’s more, the buses will be operated by women conductors and freshly-recruited drivers. During non-peak hours, the buses can take in all passengers. While people have raised concerns about infrastructural capacity, and BEST’s bad shape, the project has a budget of Rs 50 crore, allotted last year. It’s a good start.
For anyone who knows how palpable the male gaze is, and how real the threat of violence, and fear of safety usually is, women-only initiatives are a haven. Especially in Mumbai where space in public transport is hard to come by. Of course, the larger battle is to end violence, harassment and misogyny, but if women-only buses get us through the day without constantly feeling at risk, we’ll take it, thanks.