Give her a free ticket to equal public access - Hindustan Times
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Give her a free ticket to equal public access

Jun 23, 2023 09:58 PM IST

News of free bus rides in Karnataka, the latest state to join Delhi and Tamil Nadu, coincided with an increased scrutiny of women using public transport.

I cannot recall a single instance when those now spewing outrage on social media about “freebies” for women because of no-charge bus rides have protested against the hours of free labour provided by women at home.

The carping aside, it’s not out of place to ask how women in modern India commute.(PTI) PREMIUM
The carping aside, it’s not out of place to ask how women in modern India commute.(PTI)

The carping aside, it’s not out of place to ask how women in modern India commute. If they do so at all, then a vast majority are powered by their own legs — 67.6% women in urban India walk to work compared to 28.3% of men, according to the 2011 Census. There is academic research too on how women choose less remunerative jobs and lower-ranked colleges to avoid longer commutes.

“The backlash on social and local media is very misogynistic,” says Prapthi Mahendranath, director of the Bengaluru-based Policy Square. But at heart, she says, the issue is one of diversity and inclusion. “The bigger purpose here is to get women out and about.”

News of free bus rides in Karnataka, the latest state to join Delhi and Tamil Nadu, coincided with an increased scrutiny of women using public transport. Public displays of affection and, earlier this week, a picture of a woman straightening her hair in the metro, caused great consternation. I am still waiting for outrage over men’s routine misbehaviour, including hogging space on seats by spreading their legs, and standing too close to women. The anger also led me to wonder about the definition of a “freebie”. Giving children free meals in schools has resulted in more kids in school than ever before. Give a girl a cycle and she’ll pedal away to secondary school. Freebie or wins for the country?

“There is no doubt that travel support especially for marginalised women is needed,” says Dolon Ganguly of the Azad Foundation. Those forced to walk now take the bus. Those who took the bus now can spend the money on better food or medicines, for instance, for their children and themselves. When more women work, there’s a direct impact on Gross Domestic Product.

In Delhi, where women account for only 11% of the workforce, the Aam Aadmi Party has ensured free bus rides for women since 2019 with one billion “pink tickets” issued until January this year. Next on the cards: Women drivers and conductors.

Tamil Nadu’s zero ticket scheme has issued 2.59 billion tickets. And, just three days after Karnataka’s Shakti scheme was introduced, five million women had taken the bus, up from an average of 4.1 million earlier.

To be sure, free bus tickets by themselves are not a magic solution. Also needed are more buses, expanded routes, and better last-mile connectivity.

Behind the fare waivers is an invitation to women to participate more equally in public spaces. When women see other women on the bus, it gives them the confidence to step out and navigate the city. It breaks the male stranglehold over public spaces. It’s a notice that says, time’s up; cities are no longer the monopoly of able-bodied men.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender. The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Namita Bhandare writes on gender and other social issues and has 25 years of experience in journalism. She has edited books and features in a documentary on sexual violence. She tweets as @namitabhandare

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