On June 3rd this year, Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, announced free metro and bus rides for women. While this is a new initiative by the Delhi government, it did spark some debate. After a few days of announcement of it, when Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia took a bus ride, enquiring with approximately fifty women regarding the government’s novel initiative, none of them seemed unhappy about it. A strong wave of women, all over Delhi, expressed their ire over the “freebies”, and stated that they can afford their travel expenses. While this surely shows how independent and self-reliant women are, it simultaneously echoes their already privileged position.
The initiative will prove to be a major leg up for women who are poor and underprivileged, who hail from the lowest rungs of the strata of society. These women work as house-maids, labors, sellers of various items on the bursting streets of Delhi, and are engaged in some other petty work of the same ilk, to earn a living and make both ends meet.
Their monthly income nears somewhere to seven to eight thousand, of which they unfortunately spend two to three thousand on travels, either by e-rickshaws or on foot. Metro, to them, is a luxury.
Added to this, metro is also a relatively safer means of commute system when compared to auto or bus rides. By making it free, not only women from deprived classes will be able enough to save some money, but their safety, which else compromised, also shall be guarded. The safety issue springs up for women of all classes, who are a part of late night commuters by metro.
The Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC) will incur no losses. The funding of the entire initiative is entirely under the ambit of Delhi government. The mere presumption of tax hike and the skepticism that male citizens will eventually have to bear its brunt holds no solid grounds.
Many critique its underpinning, knotting it with a move to bolster AAP’s vote bank for the upcoming Assembly elections which is due for the year 2020. But again, if at all it is a ‘poll plank’, it is a better strategy than fomenting religious or communal hatred, or hinting at majoritarianism, or disseminating disinformation to the masses through the sheer power of rhetoric.
This maneuver is one of the many affirmative actions that should be taken to empower women, since centuries of neglect and discrimination. Since it came to power, the Delhi government has taken many steps for the overall public welfare of the city. This new undertaking should not be leveled with gender equality. It is primarily about empowerment; because, say, have we ever seen men get uneasy with or question the unequal pay to women for the same job?
Even when a woman carries the same number of bricks as that of a man, she would be paid less because of the entrenched, stereotyped dynamics that are still linked to gender. So, free metro and bus travels are rather related to emancipation, than equality.
This inventiveness forms a part of a larger framework of enterprises needed to give freedom to women and enfranchise them.