By Nidhi Batra
We assume that as a woman you have equal right to the city as your male counterpart. We assume that the city is ours as much as his. We assume that we can also do our normal chores with the city, use its infrastructure, walk, traverse and interact with the city with equal pleasure. But, we all know we assume wrong. Indian cities (and villages) are now synonymous with rapes. These are places not meant for us; these are places where we are ‘justified victims’. Our complaints fall on deaf ears of politicians, horror of civic planning and horrendous urban management.
Anyone familiar with urban literature is well traversed with the concept of ‘Eyes on the sidewalk’ by Jane Jacobs. But in many Indian situations, there are just too many eyes – fixed right at you, piercing through you, making you uncomfortable to the level that it is you and not those eyes that choose to look away.
Metro stations in Delhi and Gurgaon are one such pool of leering eyes. All metro stations were to be equipped for intermodal change. They are to permit a user jump off the metro and take a rickshaw, auto or your own parked vehicle for that last mile connection. Most metro stations have all of this. Autos that are parked right till the entrance of the metro station, rickshaws right behind them and insufficient car parking areas. Metros are being planned and constructed, however no planning and urban design is instituted in the design of these metro stations. Sitting bang on the road, most metro stations have no allocated space for these rickshaws and autos. These vehicles hover up on the street and the resultant is a traffic mess due to ill – managed transport. But it doesn’t really stop there. These autowallas and rickshaw wallas in their full attempt to ‘grab’ a ‘savari’ conglomerate right at the entry/exit of the station and pounce on every single user descending the metro station. This pouncing becomes even greater if it’s a woman user. And if unfortunately you are a user trying to enter the metro station – bad luck! You would have to fight through this wall of ambushing crowd and find your way in. Oh and if you are disabled or pregnant like I was last year, the struggle gets double! How dare then can we assume that this city is ‘also’ for us!
The picture above is at Sikanderpur metro station in Gurgaon, at 1 pm (not even office hours!)
On the other side of how further the metro is limiting to women passengers is the case example of Gurgaon Rapid Metro. The ingenious move of the Gurgaon Rapid Metro to earn revenue and avail some of its construction cost is to brand their coaches. As a result the entire coach brands a commercial commodity. Skoda and 3Cs are some of the brands endorsing the Rapid Metro. These endorsements wrap the entire coach so perfectly that, in the day time, the dark film doesn’t even let you see inside the coaches. I remember standing at the station wondering whether I should step in the coach – with no idea who or what could be going on inside. Once again, how dare, I even imagine that I could quickly take this metro and meet my friend at cyber hub for that afternoon coffee! Of-course branding is more important than me!
Design, planning, governance and urban management – all together, need to play a role to make our cities safe for women. Metro is an exemplar for infrastructural development in NCR, but sadly even this successful intervention did not plan for its women passengers. A simple urban design exercise could have saved these transport nodes from turning into such havoc and would have given us the right to the city, we still believe and hope we deserve!