Arvind Kejriwal's 'free rides for women' scheme cynically overlooks safety in favour of fashioning a new vote bank

Delhi chief minister Kejriwal’s proposed gift to women in the capital of  free rides on local transport is estimated to cost the exchequer Rs 2,000 crore annually. That's a lot of money.

While it would very difficult to withdraw this privilege when the coffers run dry or another government takes over, this populist move is predicated on a rather disingenuous claim that it is being done not out of generosity of spirit, but to keep women safe. One is hard placed to see the connect between safety and free rides since it is unlikely a thief or a hood would ask to see a woman’s ticket before doing the dirty and stealing a gold chain or snagging a purse. When is ticket-less travel a deterrent to crime?

 Arvind Kejriwals free rides for women scheme cynically overlooks safety in favour of fashioning a new vote bank

Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi. ANI

It is a move that is purely a step towards creating a female vote bank for next year’s state elections.

The Delhi chief minister probably thinks he has scored big time with this offer.

If he'd created an infrastructure for more ‘women only’ buses or provided for instituting a special surface transport police like in the railways, it would have made more sense. There is also an intrinsic flaw in giving all women free rides because after the initial delight of not paying wears off, women will still be unsafe and targeted. Worse, it is certain to generate a clamour for a similar concession in other vote banks.

Where will it stop?

Again, while at first glance it may sound like a wonderful thing, most women on buses and the metro are earning their own bread. And while the money saved cannot be sneezed at, they'd have been a lot happier if their safety had been taken seriously, not dealt with in this absurdly cosmetic fashion. Fives rapes a day are reported in the capital and the memories of the 2012 gangrape case have not yet faded. Kejriwal has dropped the ball.

According to the 2019 crime and safety report — issued as a guide to foreigners — petty crimes such as theft and pick-pocketing are compounded by incidents of eve teasing and touching women under the guise of finding a spot on overcrowded buses.

In 2018, when Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal formed a panel to look into safety on Delhi’s transport, it concluded that women largely felt unsafe. Harassment, being victims of gangs and passing through less affluent areas only heightened this perception. None of these issues have been addressed.

As things stand, Kejriwal has failed to take any concrete steps to ensure the safety of women.

As a first step in offering these safety measures, one could have understood giving girls under the age of 16 free rides to school, but then they aren't a vote banks. The scary part is that when governments take such arbitrary steps and are not held accountable, they can justify their decision with the most suspect arguments. And there seems to be no way to stop them.

 

Updated Date: Jun 04, 2019 18:26:35 IST