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The best Women’s Day gift for Mumbai’s women commuters

Yesterday’s Women’s Day could have been yet another annual ritual with women
celebrating being women, men making grand gestures and then everything going
back to normal: a rape, a grope, a poke, screams and inattention. However, it
was different in a significant way. When even policemen, who ought to enforce
laws against sexual crimes think that rapes are consensual in most cases and
that women invite rapes, two organisations in Mumbai provided simple solutions which could go a long way in helping women.

They stressed the point that big, complicated, nuanced laws are not the only requirement to ensuring an improved level of safety for women, and that small things could do much more. Here are the two moves, delightfully simple, almost no-cost ones, which at the moment, can be called plans but easy to enforce:

 The best Women’s Day gift for Mumbai’s women commuters

Central Railway plans to string the women's coaches together and put them close to the foot bridge. Reuters

First, the Central Railway (CR) intends to rejig its rake configuration on the suburban services – we call them ‘locals’ – so that all the coaches assigned for exclusive use by women commuters are strung together in one sequence. As of now, they are dispersed along the string of coaches which puts the women to stand at various places on the overcrowded platforms.

By doing that, the crowding on the station platforms — by crowding, one means
‘the super-dense crush capacity’, a measure of occupancy which goes beyond a mere ‘overcrowded’ label employed by the railways to describe densities on trains – would find that all women passengers would be bunched together ensconced in the comfort that they are out of reach of any and all male mischief.

Also, these coaches would be placed at the Kalyan-end of each coach, which in railways and Mumbai commuters’ parlance means the northern end of the rake. All trains on the suburban commuter system operate north-south in a linear city with the same alignment. The growth of the city and the pattern of services have fed each other sustaining the linear nature of growth. That is, however, another matter altogether.

That brings these women commuters closest to the foot overbridges (FOBs) as they alight from the trains to make a beeline for them. They would be the first to swarm on to them and be out of the station as the first flush from each arriving train, and feel safer. The other offering is more and better toilets in six months for them, a sore need, and open for 22 hours a day. Loksatta reported that the railways would itself operate these toilets, probably to speed up their commissioning.

In their caution, the CR’s general manager, Subodh Jain said, as per a Times of India report, they would introduce it in a 15-coach rake and if workable by them and acceptable to the women, they would be replicated on all their trains, 12-coach included. It is hard to believe that there could be any hurdles, especially when CCTV cameras are to be set up and GPRS technology employed.

The Western Railway could follow its counterpart, giving them the same comfort on their services. Perhaps it is wondering as to why these simple solutions did not occur to them first. There’s no harm in being a follower; it could devise its own improvements, if any. For, they won’t be pinned down to the few women’s specials to use which they needn’t change their schedules
– leave home earlier to take it, or take the later and be late for office.

Second, the BEST, the municipalised bus transport system, despite all its emerging flaws, has announced its intent of allowing women to board from the front, a concession not offered to even feeble senior citizens unless the driver is kind to them. This ends the women’s need to jostle to enter the bus from the rear. Mumbai no more has that discipline of queues and buses don’t stop close to the sidewalk where the halt is. As the bus arrives, it is a rush to get in.

Front entry for women takes their ease and comfort to another level because a dozen seats in all BEST buses are already reserved for women. However, gaining access from the rear, it requires them to navigate through the standees in the aisle, using two means, one being the ‘Excuse me’ and the other, in very crowded buses, their elbows to make a way for themselves. Get in from the front and get to the front seats, as simple as that.

These are mostly no-cost options which also improve the efficiency of managing the human movement in public spaces and one wonders why these were not thought of earlier. But that does not detract their merit. Women who feel beleaguered and have demanded their rightful place and respect would be happy with these arrangements. No more the daily molestation which the system, unintended, heaped on them. Probably, for the Mumbai’s women folk, the Women’s Day was the best ever.

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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2013 11:59:25 IST