'I've jumped off a moving bus to get away from an attacker...' Life for women on India's public transport

Groping, fighting, humiliation... sometimes being female on Indian public transport can be a terrifying experience. Mridu Khullar Relph, herself a Delhi resident, hears the travel nightmares of the women riding on the city’s Metro

Mahima Kohli regularly took the bus from her college to her home when she was a high school student in Delhi. Despite the five-minute journey, Mahima always made a point of only boarding crowded buses. One day, however, on an impulse, she boarded a bus with only three male passengers.

She sat quietly in her seat, willing herself unseen, until the conductor walked up to her, gave her a ticket and “leeringly asked where I was headed.” That was her cue. She had seen that look before and she didn’t like it. As soon as the bus stopped at the next red light, she jumped off, and walked the rest of the way home.

When I attended college in Delhi, I often took the bus and there wasn’t a day when there wasn’t a man staring or groping women. I have jumped off a moving bus in order to get away from an attacker and have been threatened at knifepoint in a bus with more than a dozen passengers. 

When girls in Delhi reach an age where we have to leave homes unaccompanied to go to school, college, or work, we’re offered the following directives, passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter: don’t get on buses or trains that are too crowded or someone will grind against you. Don’t get on buses or trains that are empty or someone will take advantage of your seclusion. Always ensure that there is already another woman – preferably an older woman – travelling on a bus before you get on. If you do have to board a bus or taxi after dark, doing so in a group is far better than doing so alone.

There are rules for parks (never go inside one after dark), for taxis (pick older drivers, they are regarded as more moral, as well as less physically strong), and for how to react if you are abused (don’t fight back).

Sometimes, the rules are self-imposed. “I avoid travelling in general compartments [of trains] alone, unless I have a male colleague to give me company,” says 28-year-old Rashmi Menon. While taking the bus to work would take her 40 minutes, the train journey takes her almost double the time. “I choose to take the longer, more time-consuming Metro because I feel safe,” she says.

But despite these so-called rules, women – such as the victim of the fatal gang-rape that occurred on 16 December – do take buses, cross through neighbourhood parks and take taxis driven by young men. If they don’t, they risk standing by the empty roadside with no way to get home.

When the Delhi Metro was opened in the city in 2002, “Delhiites” took to it in droves. It changed the way city-dwellers commuted and has become a spectacular growth story with almost four million people projected to be using the system by 2016. But as the numbers grew, so did the complaints of harassment from women. A survey conducted by the Delhi government in 2010 revealed that almost half of the women travelling in the Metro did not feel safe using public transport.

E Sreedharan, the former managing director of the Delhi Metro said at the time: “I personally feel that Delhi is one city where [people] don’t respect their women.”

In order to counter this situation, in October that year, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation created separate women-only compartments that were an instant hit with female commuters. A month after the women’s coaches were introduced, operations were disrupted in the late evening after 40 men forcibly entered a women’s coach. When they refused to leave, women blocked the doors and stopped the train from moving. Metro and CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) officials had to be called in to prevent the situation from escalating.

Earlier in the day, female police officers had “attacked and humiliated” the men when they had been found in the women-only compartments. According to media reports, the women police had beaten them with sticks and made them do sit-ups, and the storming of the carriages later that night was in retaliation.

Mahima Kohli, now 21 and studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication, is still taking the trains. Two years ago, she had thought that the women’s coach was a boon. Now, while she thinks the idea is a good, and necessary measure, she believes the delivery is not yet up to scratch.

Since only one coach is reserved for women in each train, the women’s compartment can get very cramped during peak hours. “This leads to unnecessary and avoidable cat fights and arguments,” she says.

Men, she says, continue to infiltrate the women’s coaches despite repeated warnings. How safe women feel on the Metro, can be summed up by the fact that general coaches are routinely referred to as “men’s compartments.”

After the 16 December gang rape, the number of women police and CISF officers at the Metro stations has been increased, but 22-year-old Aprajita Saxena, a communications specialist, feels it’s not enough.

“Sadly, even after the recent rape case... there hasn’t been any significant change,” she says. “I’ve witnessed several cases of harassment on the Metro and absolutely no help was available to the women involved... Basic requirements like the presence of women police in each women carriage can and should be done.”

Ms Kohli says that while the behaviour of men may not have changed, the behaviour of women certainly has. In the wake of the December gang rape – which brought both women and men out on to the streets to protest – there has been a growing realisation of how unsafe the city is for women.

“I’ve noticed a new found solidarity in women’s conduct with one another, which is heartening,” she said. “There is much less bickering and a greater sense of unity among fellow women travellers now.”

Though women’s carriages have been a welcome step, they certainly cannot be the solution to the problem of violence against women. As much as it is important to keep women safe in the short-term with such measures, segregation encourages distrust. It is as if we are saying that we don’t trust our men enough, or can’t educate our men enough, to not behave like animals when they are in the presence of women. It is not only a step back for our women, but also our men.

Gradually, residents are demanding changes and the government and private companies, too, are beginning to deliver - with a taxi service staffed by women for women passengers only, and more police helplines. 

But more remains to be done. When asked what would make life easier for women commuters, 24-year-old marketing executive Kanika Sharma considered the question and replied: “Street lights would be a damn good start.”

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments