Free buses for women come at a price

Commuters recount incidents of anxiety; we are ensuring that these complaints are dealt with as a priority, according to the police

Commuters recount incidents of anxiety; we are ensuring that these complaints are dealt with as a priority, according to the police

It was only 5.30 p.m. when Arushi Suryavanshi, who was waiting at a bus stop in Sukhdev Vihar, realized she was not safe. She was constantly stared at by a man, probably in his forties. Although the bus stop was not deserted, Ms Suryavanshi, 24, realized that if she fell prey to the would-be attacker, she could be left without help.

As she was about to board the bus for Sarojini Nagar market, the man stealthily touched her thigh and boarded the bus, occupying a seat directly behind her. Ms. Suryavanshi realized she was in trouble and got off at the next stop. “Such incidents should not be normalized, but they continue to happen to women,” Ms Suryavanshi said, as she waited for another bus at Defense Colony.

Bus stops are a hub for the free male gaze, many have said. Men can be seen staring, publicly smoking, talking loudly and judging women while making lewd comments. The areas, both occupied and isolated, where women wait to board their buses, have similar stories.

pink ticket

The Hindu spoke to women across the capital who travel by bus to understand if the ‘pink ticket’ guaranteed them safety on buses and bus stops.

The “pink ticket” allows women to travel for free on public buses. The free bus ride scheme for women was launched by the AAP government in the capital in 2019. However, it comes with a price – the price women have to pay by ignoring people, staring at them, dropping a complaint or by not yet taking the same route.

Police deployment

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Public Relations Office) Suman Nalwa said the police are equipped to handle any type of case – harassment, assault, teasing or kidnapping at bus stops – to make Delhi a safe space for women .

“We understand that women find it difficult to move around the city, day or night. Delhi Police has deployed more than 70,000 to 80,000 police officers at different levels in four different teams to control crimes against women and maintain law and order in the city,” Ms Nalwa said.

The metro is a safer option

The women recount incidents not only of unwanted stares, but also of being approached by potential abusers. Manvi Thakur, 24, who takes a daily bus from Lajpat Nagar to Dwarka around 4 p.m., recalled an incident where she was waiting at the bus stop when a man approached her pretending to make a call from his phone. “I refused because I was alone at the bus stop. I could feel he was trying to strike up a conversation just to get my phone number,” she said.

Out of fear, Ms. Thakur left the bus stop and took the subway instead. “At least there is a women’s compartment in the metro trains and the platform is equipped with CCTV cameras; these people can be identified,” she said.

At night, Lajpat Nagar becomes difficult to cross, Ms Thakur said. “Vendors in the neighborhood close their stores at 7:30 p.m. There is a huge crowd at the bus stop at that time. It’s safer to spend a little more and take another means of transport for your safety,” she added.

Traders in the central market area of ​​Lajpat Nagar usually board the buses around 8 p.m., which makes the area crowded and chaotic at that time. While the police are making several rounds in the area, a few women waiting at the Lajpat Nagar bus stop do not prefer to board the bus because of unwanted stares.

Ravi Ranjan, 29, owner of a kiosk behind the Lajpat Nagar bus stop, said women usually stay away from the stop to avoid incidents of harassment. He said the number of women commuting drops dramatically after 8 p.m.

While talking about cases of harassment and situations where women do not feel safe near a bus stop, Ms Nalwa said one should not wait but dial 112 straight away – a number for urgency – to lodge a complaint. If a woman frequently travels from a certain area and has witnessed such an incident, she should file a complaint at the local police station. She can write to the post officer or the district police commissioner about it.

Focus on zero tolerance

“We ensure that any such complaint will be dealt with as a matter of priority as we are focused on zero tolerance. Registration of an FIR becomes mandatory for local police, however, if denied, they should contact us,” the DCP said.

Ms. Nalwa further said that since Delhi has a large number of women who travel by bus, the fairer sex should remain vigilant: “One should download Himmat+ mobile app on their phone so that they don’t have to care about their location,” she added. added.

Ms Nalwa said PCR vans are deployed throughout the city. “We also keep an eye on the local police, so that they can be made aware of such incidents.”

Palak Rajput, 21, a flight attendant trainer, recalled an incident a month ago on a bus from South Extension to Dwarka. “I was continually ignoring a man who had struck up a conversation with me. Luckily, someone sitting next to me saved me from this uncomfortable situation,” she said. “Personally, I don’t prefer traveling the night as I know the bus stops are not safe for women as many are secluded at night,” she added.

Black spots

Explaining how dark areas are under the police radar, DCP said: “We maintain strict vigilance over all areas of the city, while ensuring that these places are identified on a daily basis.” The police are actively identifying black spots so that women can feel much safer when traveling in different modes of transport.

Explaining, Ms. Nalwa said blackheads are isolated areas; these areas lack proper street lighting and have less or no vehicular traffic at night. “These areas can be categorized as stretches of road, poor trails along the road, little or no public transport options and a lack of shops,” she added.

Blackspots also have poor mobile connectivity, and to address these issues police patrols have been increased in areas during the dark hour, DCP said. Dark hours are defined as the period after sunset, Ms Nalwa said. The police escalated the issue to the PWDs and telecommunications companies so that streetlights could be installed and an effective signal could be provided.

Slight improvement

Acknowledging that the Delhi Police have now become efficient, 23-year-old Shaista Parveen said the situation at bus stops has improved significantly. “If you are from Delhi, you would know how secluded and secluded the bus stops were at night. Now I can see streetlights in some areas,” she said. She boards a bus from various places in South Delhi like South Extension, Kailash Colony, Moolchand, Lajpat Nagar to AIIMS every day. “I saw police on duty at night near bus stops. Since CCTV cameras were installed on buses and marshals deployed at bus stops, the situation has improved significantly,” she said.

Bad infrastructure

While a few complained about unwanted stares, Ravinder Kaur, 49, a housewife, who boards a bus from Bangla Sahib Gurdwara to Kalkaji every week, complained about the infrastructure and the functioning.

“The region is really busy compared to other regions. Most buses pass through Patel Chowk. There is a lot of traffic due to the buses queuing. Most buses don’t stop at the designated spot, rather they stop far ahead, leaving us with no choice but to run behind the bus, waste time and miss the seat” , she said.

Ms Kaur, who travels frequently by bus, said it was a trend she had noticed. Buses rarely stop at designated points. “We end up waiting longer only because we keep running from place to place looking for a bus,” she added. She added that the infrastructure is damaged at some bus stops. “Bus stops lack a proper and clean seating arrangement. The area is generally dirty with no trash cans nearby.

Christy J. Olson