Crime in transit

Print edition : January 25, 2013

THE Delhi incident has once again brought to the fore the pressing need for gender-responsive public transportation. Gender-specific needs are seldom factored in the designing of public transport, as a result of which travel remains a nightmare for the majority of the women in most parts of urban India.

According to a survey conducted in December by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India (ASSOCHAM), around 92 per cent of working women felt insecure, especially during night time, in all the major hubs of economic activity, especially in the business process outsourcing, information technology, hospitality, civil aviation, health and garment manufacturing sectors. They have been demanding suitable safety norms. Even women working in large establishments did not feel safe after dark, it said. The random survey, conducted among working and non-working women in Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Dehradun revealed that almost all the respondents felt that the problem of insecurity faced by women was bigger than any other challenge faced by India.

Predictably, Delhi topped the list of unsafe cities, with 92 per cent of the women respondents complaining that they felt unsafe. As many as 85 per cent in Bangalore, 82 per cent in Kolkata and 18 per cent in Hyderabad reported feeling unsafe while working in day/night shifts. The paper revealed that every 40 minutes a woman was kidnapped and raped; every hour a woman was teased on the streets; and every 25 minutes there was a case of molestation. Two in every three women surveyed in Delhi had faced some form of sexual harassment in the last two years. Women in Delhi-NCR felt unsafe in many public spaces and at all times of the day and night. Public transport and roadsides were places where women faced high levels of sexual harassment, the survey found. Poor civic infrastructure was also a reason for lack of safety for women, it said.

In a paper titled “The Crisis of Public Transport in India: Overwhelming Needs but Limited Resources”, John Pucher and Nisha Korattyswaroopam, Rutgers University, Neenu Ittyerah, Indian Railways, Chennai, write that “the leap-frog development typical of suburban sprawl tends to follow major highways out of Indian cities to the distant countryside. There are important consequences of such low-density, sprawled decentralisation for public transport. Just as in North America and Europe, it generates trips that are less focussed in well-travelled corridors and thus more difficult for public transport to serve. In India, it has led to rapid growth in car and motorcycle ownership and use and thus increasingly congested roadways that slow down buses, increase bus operating costs, and further discourage public transport use.” According to them, no “comprehensive national statistics on bus service supply [is available], let alone the number of riders, but the fragmented statistics for individual cities suggest substantial growth. For example, in the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, there was an 86 per cent increase in the size of Mumbai’s bus fleet, and a 54 per cent increase in Chennai’s bus fleet. While the size of Delhi’s public bus fleet actually fell, the number of private buses rose by almost twice as much, yielding a net 28 per cent increase (Association of State Road Transport Undertakings, 2002).”

According to the report of the working group on urban transport for the 12th Five Year Plan, “the present scene of urban transport across India is categorised by sprawling cities; declining share of public transport and non-motorised transport; focus on supply side yet with low investments; sheer neglect of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users; and increased motorisation leading to pollution and high road fatalities/injuries. The problem is getting further aggravated by multiplicity of authorities/departments involved in urban transport often with conflicting agenda as well as a lack of understanding of the authorities as well as public of various issues relating to urban transport.”

The working group noted: “In fact, on account of lack of availability of credible and quality public transport options coupled with increased affordability of people to own private vehicles, the two-wheeler ownership rate in Class I cities at all India level is expected to increase from 102 per 1,000 population at present to 393 per 1,000 population by 2021 and for car from 14 to 48 per 1,000 population by the same year. Thus the number of cars and scooters/motor cycles in India is expected to grow by more than three times by 2021.” While there was no gender-specific angle to the study, it is clear that safe public transport for women, especially if they are expected to participate as equal partners in a democracy is non-negotiable. A robust public transport, by the very nature of its structure, ensures safety in terms of physical numbers. The report as such recommended greater public investment for public transport.

If safe public transport is an issue for women, so is access to another basic facility, toilets. The latest data on Houses, Household Amenities and Assets from the Registrar General of India’s Office show that 69.3 per cent of rural households did not have latrines within their premises. At an all-India average, 46.9 per cent of households had latrines, with the figures skewed in favour of urban households (81.4 per cent) compared to rural households (30.7 per cent). The absence of such facilities not only creates health problems but also puts women and girls at higher risks of sexual violence.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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