By Emma Natty:
To get about in Delhi it is not unusual for passengers to pack like sardines into the Metro carriages or to see a family of five riding a motorbike without helmets. While this raises certain transport safety concerns perhaps a more pressing issue has been ensuring the public transport security of women.
In December 2014 an Uber driver was accused of raping a female passenger. After this incident sexual violence in Delhi was on the agenda again. Uber was banned in the capital as a result and women’s public transport safety was a large concern in the city.
After a few days in Delhi I had my own fair share of public transport experiences. By this stage I felt quite confident hailing the green and yellow auto-rickshaws and bartering for local fare prices. For the right amount of rupees my driver agreed to squeeze four of us into his three-wheeled vehicle. “No problem,” he said.
With my head resting on the roof of the rickshaw I noticed a sign on the back of the driver’s seat saying ‘This driver respects women’. I’d seen similar stickers and banners on other auto-rickshaws and taxis throughout Delhi. I asked the driver about these and it seems they represent the driver’s commitment to gender equality and come from an organisation called the Manas foundation.
Since 14 May, 2015 the Manas Foundation has been working with rickshaw drivers and cab companies to increase gender sensitivity and empathy and reduce gender inequality and sexual violence in public transport. This was a timely campaign implemented five months after the Uber driver rape case of December 2014.
The next afternoon I rode the Delhi Metro rail in the ‘women only’ carriage and I spoke with Ms Eshami Chauda, a regular Metro commuter and passenger of the women’s carriage. Ms Chauda says the women’s carriage is very popular and many women prefer this carriage because it makes them feel safe. “It’s not as crowded, it’s much safer and you don’t get harassed or pinched like you might in the other carriages when it is very full,” she said.
In a patriarchal society Ms Chauda says ‘women only’ carriages empower women to participate. “The metro is the only public transport service offering women’s only sections. You don’t see this on buses or in cabs so this provides women a way to get out of the house, be active in society and feel safe,” she said
While some people think women’s safety implementations create further divide and set back gender equality, Ms Chauda believes it is necessary for Delhi at this point in time. “Yes, lots of people think the women’s only carriage is a backwards movement, but at the moment we need this,” she said.
On my final afternoon before flying home to Australia I got a cab back to my hotel. Dangling from the rear-view mirror was an air freshener that caught my eye. It had a familiar phrase; ‘This taxi respects women’.