The right to commute in peace

Updated: Dec 14, 2019, 07:52 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Getting from home to the office and back ought to be the least of our worries in a city that prides itself on being India's financial capital

Think about what it means for women, children, the disabled or senior citizens to travel. Think about what they navigate from the minute they leave their homes to the completely avoidable obstacles placed in their path outside every railway station. File pic
Think about what it means for women, children, the disabled or senior citizens to travel. Think about what they navigate from the minute they leave their homes to the completely avoidable obstacles placed in their path outside every railway station. File pic

Lindsay PereiraA young woman was recently molested in a cab on her way home from a party. The specifics don't warrant repetition, but the incident itself brought to my mind a similar instance involving a friend a few years ago. She was being dropped home by a superior after an office party, when he decided to invade her personal space. She quit the company, complained about him, and was rewarded with the knowledge that while she had to deal with unemployment, he was promoted and is currently a vice president at the same organisation.

She knew the person, but this doesn't change the fact that she should have had the right to get home safely. Would her molester have acted if there were systems in place to prevent the incident from taking place? Enough has been written about #MeToo, the many reasons why millions of Indian women choose to drop out of the workplace each year, and why government schemes about security are a sham. What isn't talked about nearly as often enough is how the simple act of commuting from our homes to our offices is a daily nightmare that affects us all, irrespective of whether we are young women or not.

The most vulnerable among us ought to be protected. Every local train carries a set of instructions that haven't changed since I was in school, one of which encourages passengers to take care of unaccompanied students. This is a message in two languages that asks us all to be responsible, but no one I know can claim to take it seriously because it has been decades since taking a local train was a safe and efficient way to commute.

Think about what it means for women, children, the disabled or senior citizens to travel. Think about what they navigate from the minute they leave their homes to the completely avoidable obstacles placed in their path outside every railway station. Think about what rush hour means to anyone who isn't physically and mentally equipped to deal with what railway officials pleasantly refer to 'super dense crush load.'

Things don't get much better for those with access to private transport either, as anyone using the Western Express Highway can attest to. I have colleagues and friends who rush from their offices at 6 pm to try and make it home for dinner by 9 pm, because of how unpredictable their drive home can be in the event of a single accident. It says a lot when one vehicle breaking down on a highway can have repercussions for hours, because we have no systems or processes in place to manage things better.

We should be able to travel in peace, given how little is given to us. We have no decent roads, no access to decent public healthcare, no access to a single decent toilet anywhere on any of our city highways, and no guarantees of safety for women after the sun sets. For a state that loudly proclaims how safe it is for women compared to cities in North India, the statistics don't match. A lot of this has to do with the nature of life in all big cities, of course, but there has to be a fundamental change in how the people elected to manage us start to look at the way we commute.

A couple of years ago, a forum of travel experts published a report based on data from government and private statistical agencies that showed a decline in the use of public transport. According to that report, the number of commuters using private cars daily had risen over the past decade, leading to a drop in trips by public transport. A government that genuinely cared would have spent more time trying to analyse the reasons behind those statistics, the impact it would have based on extrapolated data for the future, and the need for re-evaluation of existing plans. Naturally, if any of this was done, no one in the city of Bombay was kept in the loop.

The past few weeks have shown where the priorities of Maharashtra's politicians lie. There have been new ministerial candidates every other day, cloak-and-dagger moves involving deals worth staggering amounts of money, and the blatant acceptance or rejection of ideals and manifestos. The young women of this city who dare to go out and work will have to do their best to cope on their own. If they want safe commutes, they will simply have to rely on themselves.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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