The first bus of its kind hit the streets of the Indian capital, New Delhi, Wednesday equipped with safety features to increase security for women.
The installment of two CCTV cameras, a GPS tracking system and an emergency button are part of an initiative to help women in distress on public transport systems following the brutal gang rape of a paramedical student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.
“The issue of women’s safety on public buses became a huge issue in recent years. Certain incidents led to worries" said India’s Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari inaugurating a bus en route from New Delhi to the city of Jaipur named named “Women’s Pride”.
The government says starting June, it will make it mandatory for all buses in the country to have tracking devices, CCTV’s, and panic buttons that will connect to the nearest police stations.
Sexual violence attacks
Jyoti Singh died from the injuries she sustained in the horrific assault by six men on a moving private bus she boarded after watching a movie at night. It not only highlighted sexual violence against women, it also turned the focus on the notorious lack of safety on public transport in the Indian capital.
Two years after the gang rape, a video went viral of two sisters who beat three men who made obscene gestures and touched them inappropriately as they traveled on a bus in Haryana state. That incident triggered a debate on the apathy of fellow passengers and the conductor, who left the two college students to fight their own battle.
Rajasthan Transport Minister Yunus Khan said more than 2,000 buses in the state are being equipped with these features.
“For 30 days we will have a record [of CCTV footage] so we can catch a culprit if there is any instance of theft or bad behavior towards women” said Khan.
To increase security for women, the Delhi government has started deploying marshals on some city buses in recent months. Women complain of not just physical assaults, but also verbal harassment, called "eve teasing. "Metro trains set aside “Women’s Only” coaches that are highly popular. There is also a toll free helpline for women.
India continues to grapple with the problem of sexual abuse. Thirty-seven thousand cases of rape were reported in 2014, nearly 10 percent higher than the previous year.
Krati Sharma, of the women’s organization Jagori, has been involved with conducting several safety audits for women in the city. She said despite the measures taken by the government, women continue to feel unsafe in the capital, in buses or on the streets, particularly after dark.
“There is always a sense of discomfort. It is not that something will definitely happen, but given the image the city carries, given the number of incidents reported everyday, women kind of restrict themselves,” said Sharma.
Activist: 'sensitize men'
Sharma welcomed the initiative to equip the buses with safety features, but said it is also important to step up efforts to sensitize men to change attitudes towards women.
“These are deterrents and policies, which are equally necessary, but not the end solution.”
India has also asked phone manufacturers to install a panic button on all mobiles sold in the country, starting next year, so that pressing the number 5 or 9 will trigger an emergency call.