Big Story 10

Free bus rides seen as just one step to get more Indian women into public life

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Providing free bus travel for female commuters in Delhi should help more women join the workforce and improve their safety but a lot more needs to be done to give them better access to public life, according to one of India’s top court lawyers.

From building more bathrooms for women, providing working women with equal pay and childcare facilities, to appointing more female police and judges, Karuna Nundy said India had a long way before achieving “complete equality”.

India has a grim record of sexual violence and discrimination against women, with an average of about 90 rapes reported each day in 2017, according to federal data.

Safety concerns - highlighted by the fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in 2012 - often keep women homebound, with families reluctant to allow them to venture out for work.

“It’s the duty of the state to protect freedoms, it’s the duty of families to protect those freedoms and not for those protections to turn into oppression again,” Nundy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Nundy, who helped strengthen India’s anti-rape laws after the 2012 gang rape, said free travel would boost women’s freedom of movement and “dismal” female workforce participation rate of 11% in the city of about 26 million people.

“If you have more women in the streets and more women traveling around, there will be less harassment in general,” said Nundy, a speaker on Wednesday at the annual Trust Conference hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It makes it easy and fast to get to work and to do fun things in a transport system that is generally safe.”

The government in Delhi rolled out the scheme in late October, issuing pink tickets to women on state-run buses, guarded by marshals, to make transportation safer in Delhi - a city that has long been dubbed as India’s “rape capital”.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts in 2018 rated India as the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and slave labor.

Nundy said discussions about violence against women had increased since 2012, with victims emboldened to report crimes.

Yet many streets in Delhi are still unlit, metro stations without autorickshaws or taxis outside at night, and too few buses running after the evening rush hour.

When the plan for free public transport was announced in June, it split opinion. Supporters, including Nundy, hoped it would entice more women into work while others called it a sexist gimmick ahead of Delhi elections in 2020.

But beyond this program, Nundy called on the government to implement and fund laws that protect women and push for education programs that focus on ending gender-based violence.

“If governments don’t act and women’s movements don’t act effectively and others don’t act effectively, it’ll take 400 years in India to come to ... complete equality,” she said.

Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit to see more stories