New Delhi vows free transport for women in what opposition calls a gimmick

Politicians said the plan would cost around $101 million. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 June 2019

New Delhi vows free transport for women in what opposition calls a gimmick

  • Nearly half of India’s population of 26 million are women
  • New Delhi is the city with highest rate of crimes against women in the country

NEW DELHI: India’s capital city plans to make its state-run bus and metro network free for women commuters, hoping that higher use of public transport will improve women’s safety in one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas blighted by gender crime.
The announcement on Monday by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal came months ahead of an election in the so-called union territory, as his party faces a tough fight from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s powerful Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Public transport is considered the safest for women and keeping that in mind, the government had decided that... all buses and the metro will be made free for women,” Kejriwal told reporters.
Home to some 26 million people — nearly half of them women — Delhi recorded the highest rate of crimes against women in India, according to the most recent federal crime records data released in 2017. Gender crime has become a serious political issue in Delhi since 2012 when the gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman brought thousands of people on to city streets in protest.
Kejriwal, whose Aam Admi Party (AAP) swept to power in Delhi in 2015 partly on the promise of improved women’s safety, said the plan would be implemented in two to three months and cost around 7 billion rupees ($101 million) for the remainder of this year.
But the BJP and some women’s rights activists dismissed the proposal as a gimmick before the election to be held in early 2020.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won all seven of Delhi’s parliamentary seats in a general election that ended last month, said there weren’t enough buses in Delhi to take on the load if women commuters came out in numbers.
“It’s a good idea, there’s no problem with (it),” Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari told reporters, adding they had similar plans if voted back to power in Delhi. “BJP will also try to make all bus rides free in Delhi. We are working on it but we’ll announce it after the details are ready.”
Ranjana Kumari, director of Delhi-based women advocacy group Center for Social Research, said free rides weren’t a long-term solution, pointing out that the Delhi government had failed to fulfil poll promises, including CCTVs and marshals on buses.
“Why fritter away resources like that? Why not put them into the right places?” Kumari told Reuters.
On social media, too, many women were critical of Kejriwal’s plan, calling for better security instead of free rides.
“Sorry sir, we want safe and secure travel, not freebies,” Twitter user Shruti Vats said, using the hashtag “WomenSayNoToFreeMetro.”


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.