Delhi Transport Minister Ramakant Goswami says more buses will be added to the existing fleet only if there is a demand from the people.
Sheetal Singh (name changed) is in the business of making people look good. She works in an expensive salon in a posh South Delhi shopping arcade where her job requires her to be pleasant and patient while dealing with clients.
But as the day progresses and the sun goes down, Sheetal finds it hard to focus on her work, put on a smile and go about her business because she begins to worry about getting home.
“The salon is open till 9 p.m. and we cannot leave until the clients have been attended to. Almost everyday I pray for no late appointments [after 7 p.m.], because then I can leave by 8 p.m. when the shift ends,” she says.
Sheetal, like most of her female colleagues has to travel home by public transport and says her employer does not “bother” about how they get home. “Even if we are working till 10 p.m., no one offers to have us dropped home. We cannot ask [the proprietor], because then we might be asked to leave,” she says.
The laws about employers’ responsibility to drop women employees’ home after a certain hour means little to Sheetal. “I don’t know what the law says, but I know it is something that is humane; and the owners who have a fleet of cars at home and enough money to engage a taxi for the women employees should consider doing anyway,” she says.
According to a report, “Making Women More Secure in Delhi: Towards Confidence Building and Tackling Sexual Harassment, Initiatives by the Delhi Government”, released way back in 2005, market associations across the city have constituted complaints committees to study the grievances of female workers, but a large number of women who work in shops as sales assistants, as serving staff in restaurants etc., are unaware of its existence.
“There are times when customers misbehave or indecent comments are passed when we are entering or leaving the market, but our managers tell us to stay close and call the security guards for assistance. There is, however, no provision for escorting us home or helping with logistical support if we have to make a formal complaint with the police,” says Rossa (name changed) who works in a well-known restaurant.
Safety of women employees is not just one rule that is flagrantly flouted in the city. A quick rundown of the mandates that should have been in place for ensuring safety of women and are conspicuously missing include well-lit roads, law enforcement on public transport and on the streets and deficient gender sensitisation of the law enforcers.
The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), for instance, in 2010 announced Ladies’ Special buses on 11 routes across the city which would have on board women conductors. The service was approved for operation with effect from September 2012 on an “experimental basis” and 22 buses were pressed into service. The service, however, is barley visible on the roads and there is not enough publicity.
“I didn’t even know there is a special service. My mother says there was a ladies’ special some years ago, but was discontinued. I sometimes take a bus to work in the morning and I am yet to see one [Ladies’ Special],” says Shruti Bhatia who travels from Dwarka to Okhla. The DTC runs a Ladies’ Special between Dwarka and Nehru Place.
When asked about the service, Delhi Transport Minister Ramakant Goswami says more buses will be added to the existing fleet only if there is a demand from the people. “If there is a demand and people tell us they want more buses or to increase the frequency, we will surely do it,” he says.
Interestingly, in the report “Making Women More Secure in Delhi: Towards Confidence Building and Tackling Sexual Harassment, Initiatives by the Delhi Government”, the DTC claims women home guards have been deployed on buses apart from a host of other initiatives.
Commenting on this discrepancy -- of what the Government claims and the situation on the ground -- Dunu Roy of the non-government organisation Hazards Centre says: “The Government has the money to spend on the Commonwealth Games but not on strengthening infrastructure, like public transport; it can increase its fleet of PCRs in the New Delhi area, but does not do so in East Delhi, and this is because it focuses on politics and what will fetch them votes.”
As a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for both women as well as employers grows longer, the refrain about the glaring deficit in implementation of basic, but necessary measures too is getting louder. “To ensure a safer city, we not only need reforms in policing but also improvement in street lighting, public transport, community policing and cooperation from citizens. There is no lack of knowledge, just lack of political will,” says Mr. Roy.