Women Safety: How Safe is Public Transportation in India?

Are women safe in India? Did the number of rapes increase, or decrease over past few years? Are rapes and sexual harassment incidents in some other place more than some other place? Who is responsible for such incidents? Why do parents are still afraid to send their daughters alone at night, and sometimes even during daytime? Why do we still have to come to the streets and raise voices on how to reduce rape or crime against women in the country?

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Do you remember the Nirbhaya gangrape incident which took place on 16 December 2012 in Delhi, India? Of course, it is something unforgettable. It sent shockwaves across the country and the way people protested was a real eye opener for the citizens as well as for the government. So, what Indian government has done so far in order to make women feel safer and empowered in the country?

Steps taken by the Indian government to improve safety of women

In light of the Nirbahay gangrape incident in public bus, the Ministry of Finance, Government of India has set up a dedicated fund called the “Nirbhaya Fund’’ for implementation of initiatives aimed at enhancing the safety and security for women in the country.

Subsequently, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) proposed to implement a scheme “Security for Women in Public Transport in the Country” which is envisaged to be funded from the Nirbhaya Fund. This proposal has received in-principle approval from the Ministry of Finance (MoF). The scheme to set up the National Level Vehicle Security and Tracking System has the following components proposed:

  • A National Backend Data centre
  • City Command and Control Centre in 32 cities in India
  • Installation of Vehicle Tracking Device (VTD)/CCTV/Emergency buttons in notified public transport vehicles (On-Board devices) in all the above cities

Thus, in January 2014, the government gave go-ahead to the first project under the Nirbhaya fund, approving the installation of panic buttons, CCTV cameras and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in public transport vehicles in 32 cities in India. The report submitted by J S Varma committee recommended that all public transport vehicles such as bus, taxi, ambulance, etc. should be fitted with tamper-proof GPS tracking system. However, three-wheeler passenger vehicles, such as e-rickshaws and auto-rickshaws, have been exempted as these are mostly open ones. It was also become mandatory to display the name, age, address and contact number of all drivers along with their photograph inside the vehicle at a prominent location. Moreover, the ministry had initially proposed mandatory installation of CCTV cameras in buses with 23 or above seats, however, it was ruled out due to privacy issues.

BIS (Bureau of India Standards) was assigned the work to draft the standard for the automotive tracking device. MoRTH has engaged Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transit System Limited (DIMTS) as its technology advisor to support MoRTH in formulating and implementing the scheme. Later on, DIMTS in discussion with IIT, CDAC and others submitted the guideline specification which was later published by MoRTH in late 2014. Using these guidelines, BIS, DIMTS and ICAT (International Centre for Automotive Testing) together drafted the standard known as Automotive Industry Standard 140 or AIS 140 through a formal AIS working committee. The finalised draft was published in May 2017 with the effective date of implementation of mandatory use of approved device in all public transport vehicles being 1st April 2018.

Eventually in January 2018, MoRTH reiterated the deadline saying that no extension will be given to states in rolling out these passenger safety measures in public transport vehicles.

What emerged as an urgent need was the requirement of ‘Command and Control Centre’ or backend infrastructure- a backbone of the implementation of this scheme. What is the use of panic button, if the transport department or police control room is not able to receive an alert on real-time basis if the panic button is pressed? If they are not able to take a further action, the button will serve as a mere dummy. Moreover, the change of NERS (State Emergency Response System) to SERS (State Emergency Response System) has affected the implementation process to a great extent.

The delayed deadline

April 1, 2018 passed, and no such implementation took place. Subsequently what came as a surprise too all, was MoRTH notification issued which exempted all public service vehicles from the provisions of rule 125H of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 (of equipped with or fitted with vehicle location tracking device and one or more emergency buttons) upto the 1st day of April 2019. The fact is that the states need more time to install GPS devices and emergency buttons in the public transport vehicles but what matters is, “how much time”?

SIM related issues need to be addressed such as SIM portability, network connectivity etc. so that permit owners need not to change the SIM frequently if the telecom operator is not able to provide services anymore. The states must take it seriously as even a day’s delay will raise the question on women’s safety. Even though we have a lot of expectations from the government, it’s not about what the government is doing; it’s about what we are doing to reduce the number of unwanted sexual harassment cases we witness on daily basis.

With growing acceptance of GPS-enabled ride sharing platforms like Ola, Uber etc. and mandatory installation of vehicle tracking devices and emergency buttons, it is expected that Indian roads will be safer for women.

Sexual harassment: it’s not about one country or culture 

However, statistics and reports show that no place in the world is completely safe, we have to make women feel safe everywhere. For any woman, in any country, sexual harassment is part and parcel of her daily life. The recent global campaign, #MeToo made it very clear that sexual harassment is everywhere, across all countries and cultures.

  • According to UN Women, 120 million girls have experienced forced sex or other sexual acts. Also, almost 750 million women and girls alive today married before their 18th birthday.
  • As per a research by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, 65% of US women have experienced some form of street harassment, 23% have been sexually harassed, and 37% don’t feel safe walking home at night.
  • According to the website Sex Assault Canada, 80% of sexual assault incidents occur in people’s homes, and just 1% to 2% of date rapes are reported to the police.
  • Even in London in 2012, more than 40% of women had experienced sexual harassment in the street during the previous year.
  • In Papua New Guinea, 77% of women experiencing some form of sexual violence on buses or when waiting for buses.

Shocking, right? This is just a glimpse of how women are facing the same challenges across the globe, in terms of sexual harassment and abuse, irrespective of culture, society and geographical boundaries.

It’s not a blame game and it’s not about just one person, one state, one country. It’s about a small world which can protect women and empower them to live their lives to the fullest.  

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