Monday, 18 March 2013

Separate Measures for a Universal Problem

By Blessing Okorougo : AIF Clinton Fellow at - Centre for Social Research
Separate Measures for a Universal Problem: Will Delhi Public Transport Ever Be Safe For Women?

Delhi is an aggressive city. A burgeoning metropolitan city that while expanding forward with its state of the art metro and the widening of its urban sprawls – a push for public security in the city particularly for women has largely stagnated.

In late 2012 after the brutal rape and murder of young Jyoti Pandey ‘Nirbhaya’-a promising physiotherapy internist, India has experienced a watershed moment in the spirit of its mass protest against the mistreatment of women and young girls in Delhi since. With men, women and the youth coming together to speak out against the violent culture of rape, degradation and subjugation towards women and young girls in India- the country has had to address it’s pervasive misogynist culture which lead to the violent end to a young girls life in Delhi and continues to threaten the safety of many others around India.

Everyday women and young girls board over packed buses, crowded trains and metros with fear in their hearts. Whether it is daybreak or sundown- safety can never be taken for granted in a city such as Delhi where men can continue their invasion of women’s rights with impunity. The fear of being groped, harassed or violated on public transport is always a source of tension at the forefront of many women’s thoughts.

With a slow but steady rise of acceptance for women only cars in metros and the growing strength in numbers of women’s only taxies, one must question if women taking charge and providing for the assurance of their own transport security is the answer to the public safety of women in Delhi and around India. Are women conquering the problem or mobilizing a short term alternative that only belies the real problem: the judicial complacency towards the woeful female public safety record of India’s public transportation system.

Certainly the idea is more attractive for those who depend on public transportation, for those that must travel in the night and for those with children or travel alone. However, this short term answer may not be the long term solution or make a dent in tackling the larger issue of how to facilitate a sustainable response to the problem of making public transportation safety and security of women and young girls a priority.

Women globally face such issues when faced with the prospect of using public transport when travelling alone, at night or with children. I have personally been groped on a crowded New York City subway on a morning commute and with no recourse as my perpetrator disappeared in the crowd when I tried to alert an authority. However, the sense of insecurity is still worse in a city like Delhi for women than in more cosmopolitan cities like NY, London or Mumbai. In Delhi the culture insists that it is generally the woman’s fault with Delhi authorities often sweeping these problems under a rug- rendering them unimportant. One cannot help but feel that the situation in Delhi and other parts of India is rather unique.

As to whether installing separate avenues of transport for women is exclusionary, I don’t feel that this the real question. Rather, the question we should be asking is: how will Delhi go about installing measures to improve public safety for women accessing public transport?

If getting a rape conviction is difficult, it is fair to assume that a woman making a case for public safety as a priority would be an equally difficult task. While riding a separate cab or sitting in a women’s only car in the metro might feel safer, there are still nothing in place to ensure a woman’s safety when she gets out of her cab or leaves the metro.

The addition of gender sensitization courses in schools and the work place is a small step towards changing the culture of violence and aggression towards women- the same can be said of women empowering themselves with women only modes of transportation. The root of the problem which both solutions circumvent will ultimately need to be addressed in the creation of a stronger judicial response towards crimes against women, and deeply embedded culture of patriarchy. Sadly, this too may need a watershed moment before this mobilizes to fruition.

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