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Delhi women still feel unsafe using public transport: survey

Conducted on the evening of 16 December, the Report of Safety Audits, Delhi, covered 60km of roads in the capital on four designated routes, including the Munirka to Mahipalpur route used by the physiotherapy student on the fateful evening exactly two years ago. Photo: Hindustan TimesPremium
Conducted on the evening of 16 December, the Report of Safety Audits, Delhi, covered 60km of roads in the capital on four designated routes, including the Munirka to Mahipalpur route used by the physiotherapy student on the fateful evening exactly two years ago. Photo: Hindustan Times

Women in the capital continue to be denied freedom of mobility in public spaces, safety audit by collective of women's groups finds

New Delhi: Women in the capital of India continue to feel unsafe while using public transport, even two years after the horrific gangrape and murder of a young physiotherapy student that resulted in nation-wide protests.

Women in Delhi continue to be denied freedom of mobility in public spaces, a safety audit conducted by a collective of women’s groups has found.

Conducted on the evening of 16 December, the Report of Safety Audits, Delhi, covered 60km of roads in the capital on four designated routes, including the Munirka to Mahipalpur route used by the physiotherapy student on the fateful evening exactly two years ago.

It also covered the route taken by the executive who was raped this year on 5 December, reportedly by the driver of an Uber taxi. The other two routes covered Delhi University and Noida.

Conducted by women’s organizations Jagori, Lawyers Collective, Sakha, Azad Foundation and others, the audit looks at eight parameters, including lighting, openness, gender diversity and security. It found that gender usage is very low on all routes.

As darkness descends, the number of women on the streets reduces and women are hampered by a lack of gender diversity in public spaces. It is this lack of the presence of other women that has the highest impact on the discomfort women experience when out in public spaces in Delhi, says the report.

“The fact that services like Uber are completely unregulated shows us just how easy it is to slip into a sense of inertia in just two years," says Indira Jaising, former additional solicitor general and director, Lawyers Collective. “You have to be constantly vigilant and that is why we felt a need to have a social audit by citizens."

The audit found that other factors that contribute to making women feel unsafe on the streets of Delhi are lighting, the presence of security and visibility, or knowing that you are visible to others—vendors, shops, street-facing houses—on the streets. With high walls coming up all over the city, natural surveillance is reduced.

Using a mobile application called Safetipin, as many as 146 safety audits were conducted by personal observation, talking to people on the street, in public transport and while waiting for public transport. The audit studied three modes of transport—taxis, buses and the Metro.

With the exception of the Murnirka to Mahipalpur route, visible security was lacking. This is true even for parts of Delhi University, particularly along the Kamla Nehru ridge.

Most women surveyed said they felt safe inside Metro stations, but they preferred reaching their destinations by 9.30pm since they lack safe options for the last mile connectivity.

The Uber route lacks Metro stations in large stretches and has very poor frequency of Delhi Transport Corporation buses. Infrastructure, such as lighting, including at bus stops, footpaths and police checkposts is also poor along this stretch. The lack of toilets leads to the unedifying sight of men urinating on the road, and this is intimidating for women returning home late in the evening or at night.

The women interviewed said they had to resort to various strategies to feel safer while returning home. Some pretend to talk into their mobile phones, others ask male relatives to escort them home from the Metro station, and still others prefer sharing autorickshaws even with unknown women rather than risk getting in alone.

“If I walk with a straight face and pretend that I am a strong woman—no matter how scared I feel inside—I feel I would not be attacked or harassed," one woman said. “I have to travel by this route everyday for work," said another. “Frankly I have to constantly remind myself that ‘all is well, I will be safe’."

The audit makes key recommendations, including better planning of public spaces, particularly since the lack of gender diversity in public spaces is the single-largest factor that makes women feel unsafe. Better lighting, bus stops that clearly display routes and emergency helpline numbers, and exploring gender sensitive options to improve last mile connectivity are other recommendations.

“Several cases of reported sexual assault and violence over the last four years have led to some reactionary but short-term policy measures by the state and its law enforcement agencies. Despite these efforts, the increasing rate of crimes against women and girls in public spaces has resulted in impediments to women’s access to freedom and mobility in the city," says the report.

“What we need is a systematic and long-term investment by the government on women’s rights and freedom to move safely," says Suneeta Dhar, director, Jagori, which has been working on women’s right to inclusion in the city for over a decade.

Compulsory installing of GPS in all taxis, mandatory background checks of drivers as well as increased investment in public transport are some other steps that could help women feel safer. Moreover, the report wants women’s voices to be incorporated in the planning process and also the collection of gender disaggregated data to improve transportation. Significantly, it suggests increasing the number of women drivers in public transport. “There needs to be a minimum reservation quota for ensuring women drivers to get jobs in public and government transport," it says.

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