'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.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker