Free Metro Rides: Why Are We More Concerned About AAP’s Possible Appeasement Tactic Than Women’s Safety?
Given the alarming figures by the NCBR, far more measures need to be put in place to ensure that women not only feel safe but actually are safe.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) recently proposed to implement free metro rides and bus rides for women in Delhi. Some approve of this while others view it as an electoral strategy, in the garb of assuring women’s safety — actually aimed at winning support for the Assembly polls next year. A modern-day politically charged Trojan Horse as it were.
The term “Trojan Horse” is inspired by the story of the Greeks winning a war against the Trojans by circumventing the fortifications of the city of Troy — i.e., the city of the Trojans — by entering the city while hiding in a large wooden horse and then defeating the Trojans.
With AAP’s proposal regarding free metro rides and perhaps bus rides for women in Delhi, many figures have been floated about, such as the number of buses in the city, the cost of the scheme and the purported number of women who travel by public transport. Perhaps another figure may be contributed.
According to the National Crime Bureau Records (NCBR), crimes against women have increased alarmingly over the years. It has escalated from 2,44,270 in 2012 to 3,38,954 in 2016. There has, therefore, been a 38.76 per cent increase in crimes against women. According to the 2016 NCBR report, Delhi is currently holding the number one rank regarding crime rate qua crimes against women. In the NCBR the term “crimes against women” includes rape, dowry deaths, abetment of suicides, cruelty by husband or his relatives, kidnapping & abduction, importation of women, acid attacks, deaths by miscarriage.
While it is propounded that the quest for rising economic growth might lead to an increase in criminality, to do nothing to curb such violence is unconscionable. One reason for this rise in violence against women may be that India’s surprisingly consistent economic growth made her the cynosure of all eyes. Under the pressure of international scrutiny, India projected herself as liberal and progressive. In national media, women are/were portrayed as the purveyors of modernity: liberated and independent and sometimes, even hyper-sexualised. This was juxtaposed with the essentialisation of the body of the Indian woman in the way that she is portrayed as rational, confident, and independent, and yet, sometimes, as maternal and domesticated; aimed to keep her within the strict boundaries of her cultural codes.
Rupal Oza (2002), an associate professor at Hunter College, CUNY, in her book titled, The Making of Neoliberal India: Nationalism, Gender and the Paradoxes of Globalisation believed that such characterisations induced a backlash from conservatives who fear the loss of control over women. This is because the portrayal of women as autonomous agents who overstep traditional and cultural codes created panic over sexuality and the perceived slackening of control over it. Consequently, women were and are harassed for failing to uphold the dignity of the family, and, therein, the nation. The bodies of women appear to have become the canvas or the ground on which the dispute(s) between modernity and tradition, the issue of economic uncertainty and the desire for socio-economic mobility are being fought.
Nothing makes a woman feel like a secondary citizen like the fear that she cannot at all be sure of her safety in a city. Given the alarming figures by the NCBR, far more measures need to be put in place to ensure that women not only feel safe but actually are safe. Aside from free metro and bus rides, effective, rather than symbolic, security personnel would be imperative to ensure that women feel safe and secure. Steps such as these would, at best, be a start.
This proposal by AAP would be a very welcome drop in the ocean if it in any way, manages to ameliorate the escalating violence against women. Some may cynically wonder whether there is a larger benefit that will accrue from such a step. For those, it should be reminded that this is not an issue of using women and their safety as some sort of means to a commercialist profit-reaping end. Women, as individuals per se, should not be made to feel unsafe and insecure in their own city.
While the motives behind such a proposal may or may not be altruistic, what will perhaps be more relevant to a voter may be the encouragement by political actors in trying to implement this proposal in stark contrast to the efforts of those that may attempt to thwart it. It is hoped that the successful implementation of such proposal(s) may make the phrases that were mentioned in the ruling party’s 2019 manifesto and the AAP 2019 manifesto, i.e., “Women Empowerment” and “Women Safety”, live up to their promise.
The author studied India’s politics, political economy, society and international relations at Oxford University and is currently working in Delhi as an advocate.