Free Metro Rides: The Elitist, Sexist, and Misplaced Outrage  

Earlier this year the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government privatized the women’s safety helpline (181). Women who worked with the helpline have been constantly protesting against this move, but this didn’t inspire the outrage, neither was this issue reported widely.

Image source: Newslaundry

What gained attention and criticism was AAP government’s proposal to cede tickets for women in DMRC.

The outrage inspired by this move is nothing but elitist, misplaced, and sexist.

The Myth of Freebies

The very fact that you can talk about this issue on Twitter means that you come from privilege, it means that your metro expense doesn’t make or break your entire budget. So when you are in this position then perhaps you should keep mum about the benefit of actual welfare services.

Image source: New Statesman

Free metro rides are not taking away from men. Their ticket price is not going to increase because women have ticket waivers.  And all these assumptions about an increase in tax or ticket to fund this policy and reduction in quality of metro are paranoid at best. The AAP government has made it clear that they have a budget to finance the 16,000 crores needed here. Nevertheless, Delhi spends less money on its residents than it gets in taxes. In fact, its revenue has doubled since 2014, despite having subsidized water and electricity.

Image Source: Ritika Sharma from her series Women Commutes in Delhi

Besides, our governments siphon thousands of crores via scams and corruption so I’m not going to act frugally when they actually propose to spend on the public. Where the money will come from is not my issue, why do you think we have a finance minister and his team?

Government offers load waivers, not as a charity but because it can afford it, simply because it makes up for not following more expensive and elaborate structural changes that will prevent debt in the first place. India has benefitted by welfare policies like MNERGA.

Source: Ritika Sharma from her series Women Commutes in Delhi, Google Images

People really have the nerve to criticize Food Distribution Programme when food grains in government godowns are rotting.  The entire education given by University of Delhi is subsidy based, many of us were able to travel in the metro for over 10 years because of subsidy, Delhi people take the benefit of subsidized water and electricity, but suddenly there comes a policy that doesn’t benefit them directly the snotty disdain for freebies emerges.

Only a little more than 2% of people in India pay income tax, but everyone else pays indirect tax. From bidis to toffees, on every purchase we are contributing tax, women have to pay pink tax too. This means nothing is actually a freebie.

Limits of Rich ‘Feminists’

The girls pulling this charade of “women are independent and don’t need free services ” are arrogant. Only one section of women can afford the ticket, working women like maids and minimum wage laborers can’t! The dismissal against freebies and haughty regard for their independence by urban women is indicative of their privilege. Just because you can afford your ticket doesn’t mean other women can. How dare you dismiss an enabling initiative for independence as a freebie?

Image source: Ritika Sharma from her series Women Commutes in Delhi

A free metro will ensure that below income group women can pick metro over less safe but cheaper modes of transports like DTC buses for travel. Every transport in this city is unsafe except metro. DTC buses are erratic in their schedule, bus stops are unsafe and dark, cramped shared autos are hotbeds of harassment. Unfortunately, women have to take these dangerous modes of transport because they are cheaper.

According to the information gathered by the Indian Express via RTI replies, post the metro fare hike in 2017,  the average daily ridership of Delhi Metro fell by over 3 lakh. Further, in June 2018, after the second round of fare hike, the average ridership went down by 5 lakh.

Image Source: Gail Brodholt

Chances are these lakhs of people who left the metro post fare hike, picked other cheaper commuting means. While men are not immune to the threats and inconveniences of DTC buses and shared autos, the nature of their danger is different than that of women and non-binary folks.

Men might be at the risk of pickpocketing or theft but women and trans people have an additional risk of sexual assault. This is Delhi and hence free metro will enable the participation of more women in public spaces.

Image Source: Shagufta Mehdi

With every rupee a woman is saving,  she is securing her independence, the independence that she isn’t afforded in comparison to her male counterparts. Financially independent women can leave an abusive husband, pay for her education, and live with dignity. This is something that Indian women can really use.

Logical Fallacy of Whataboutism

To the hyper concerns of what about students, what about poor men, what about disabled people and are being made by middle-class women and men who didn’t say a word when metro fee hikes happened. The number of people outraging about the fare hike is way less than a number of people criticizing this move. This goes to show how one underprivileged section (under income men, laborers, etc.) are being pitted against another underprivileged section (women).

Image Source: Adrinne Dagg

Yes, there should be intersectionality while policy-making and subsequently an expansion in the ambit of subsidy. However, if the concern for under-income men/students is coming as a counter to a subsidy for women then this argument is being made in bad faith. Ask yourself, did you support the AAP government (or anyone for that matter) when they protested against the metro fare hike as you are criticizing them against this move?

Source: Ritika Sharma from her series Women Commutes in Delhi, Google Images

Yes, a free metro ride is not a solution to safety issues, after all, which one solution is all-encompassing? Safety can only be achieved by several holistic measures like more police patrolling, increasing the frequency of feeder buses, etc. The last mile connectivity remains to be an issue, but till that is resolved the 50 rupees saved on a metro journey can be used for booking a safer transport instead of walking or using sharing auto.

Image Source: Ritika Sharma from her series Women Commutes in Delhi

Newsflash: you can push for all ways of women empowerment without criticizing this move, there is no dearth of funds to support them. Less than 30 percent of the INR 3,100 crores of Nirbhaya Fund has been used. One should push for utilizing this money allotted for women safety, instead of relocating the INR 16, 000.

By all means, pay for your token if you can but don’t go after welfare policies.

Niharika Dabral
Niharika Dabral

Niharika Dabral is an aspiring journalist.


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