Top court recommends free bus rides make women feel safer in India


According to one of India’s top court lawyers, providing free bus travel for female commuters in Delhi should help more women join the workforce and improve their safety but a lot more needs to be done to give them better access to public life.

From building more bathrooms for women, providing working women with equal pay and childcare facilities, to appointing more female police and judges, Karuna Nundy said India had a long way before achieving “complete equality”.

India has a grim record of sexual violence and discrimination against women, with an average of about 90 rapes reported each day in 2017, according to federal data.

Safety concerns – highlighted by the fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in 2012 – often keep women homebound, with families reluctant to allow them to venture out for work.

“It’s the duty of the state to protect freedoms, it’s the duty of families to protect those freedoms and not for those protections to turn into oppression again,” Nundy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Nundy, who helped strengthen India’s anti-rape laws after the 2012 gang rape, said free travel would boost women’s freedom of movement and “dismal” female workforce participation rate of 11% in the city of about 26 million people.

The government in Delhi rolled out the scheme in late October, issuing pink tickets to women on state-run buses, guarded by marshals, to make transportation safer in Delhi – a city that has long been dubbed as India’s “rape capital”.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts in 2018 rated India as the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and slave labour.

Nundy said discussions about violence against women had increased since 2012, with victims emboldened to report crimes.

Yet many streets in Delhi are still unlit, metro stations without auto rickshaws or taxis outside at night, and too few buses running after the evening rush hour.

When the plan for free public transport was announced in June, it split opinion. Supporters, including Nundy, hoped it would entice more women into work while others called it a sexist gimmick ahead of Delhi elections in 2020. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)