On 5th December, 2014 in New Delhi a woman was raped in a cab. The incident came a few days before the second anniversary of the 16th December rape case where another woman was fatally assaulted inside a moving vehicle. The incidences of crimes against women in Delhi are very high according to the NCRB report, and have particularly gone up in the past two years. Most women in this city and I am one of them, feel that their mobility is severely restricted due to the fear of violence.
The cab in this case was registered with an international cab aggregator app called Uber. The Uber Case as it is now called has led to widespread criticism of the policies of the company for their lax procedures on checking on drivers past offences. The driver of the cab drove the girl to an isolated spot and raped her. The case makes a strong demand for bringing systemic changes so that companies perform mandated background checks on drivers and forgery of documents can be nipped in the bud.
While strengthening these systems is crucial, it is also useful to work on broader issues such as making our cities safer and more comfortable for women to use - improving public spaces in cities. The condition of roads, the street lights, visible policing, the presence of people, and availability of public transport are all factors that impact the safety and accessibility of public spaces. . To understand the safety concerns along the route that the Uber driver took that fateful night, a safety audit was conducted of the route using the Safetipin App. We take this route as an example to understand what we can do to make our cities safer for women.
Safetipin is a map-based mobile phone application which works to make our communities and cities safer by providing safety-related information collected by users. At the core of the app is the Safety Audit. It consists of a set of 9 parameters that together contribute to the perception of safety. The nine parameters include - lighting, openness, visibility, crowd, security, walk path, public transport, gender diversity and feeling of safety. Each audit results in a pin on the specific location where the audit was performed along with the time and date of the audit.
The stretch from Dhaula Kuan to Mayapuri has very few bus stops and hence people have to walk long stretches to get to a bus stop to avail public transport. Also very few autos stop on this stretch. The condition of the walk path along the Delhi Cantonment area is very poor and kilometres of the pavement have been dug up. Further down the route from Moti Nagar via Zakhira to Inderlok also has very poor pavements, in most places, especially in Zakhira the pavements are absent and pedestrians have to walk on the main road with the motor vehicles.
The whole stretch from Dhaula Kuan up to the Naraina Flyover is poorly lit. The bus stops on this route have poor lighting; some stops that are well lit are only due to digital advertisement boards present at the stands. An obscure and unmarked bus stop just off the flyover at Dhaula Kuan only has light from the stalls of the street vendors. The bus stops in Naraina, Kirti Nagar, Maya Puri, MotiNagar, Zakhira and Inderlok were deserted and had very poor lighting. The metro stations were fairly lit but the boundaries and parking lots were dark, At Kirti Nagar the area just outside the Station has garbage dumps and men urinate openly on the pavement. The Inderlok Metro Station has multiple entrances and the area under the Metro station is poorly lit. Due to the winter season the visibility is further restricted by the smog
The infrastructure of the route is not favourably built to increase accessibility. For example for people with disabilities we found no ramps. Also for the general users the pavements were very poor and at most places pedestrians would have to walk on the main road.
Gender Usage of spaces
The gender usage of spaces was somewhat diverse. There were mostly male passengers, street vendors and auto drivers. There were also some women waiting at the bus stops, inside the metro stations and outside the metro stations for private cabs. Families of homeless people were seen sleeping outside Pratap Nagar and Inderlok metro stations. The gender usage on the outer ring road is not diverse, in all the spots the female auditors were the only women on the road, bus stops and gas stations.
Visible policing and police patrolling
Check posts were mostly absent and 4 PCR vans were observed patrolling near the MotiBagh Gurudwara Nanakpura bus stop and Inderlok metro station. CISF officials were seen inside the metro stations. The Gurgaon‐Naraina subway was guarded by a contractual worker. The last police patrol on a bike was observed before the Dhaula Kuan flyover from here on the auditors saw no police patrols till the Kirti Nagar Metro Station which had police inside the station and not outside. The Delhi Cantonment area was also not policed. At Zakhira we saw no guards or police patrols. The area had a deserted look and only had one auto and a few male pedestrians. The auditors then found police presence inside the Inderlok Metro station. The areas under the metro station had no police.
The sign boards for directions were clearly visible on the ring road stretching from Kirti Nagar ‐ Naraina (Industrial area), Dhaula Kuan Passage, Dhaula Kuan complete stretch, MotiBagh and New Moti Bagh. The emergency helpline numbers were found to be displayed inside the bus running on route number 442 and metro from Pratap Nagar till Inderlok metro station on the route. The bus stop after the Dhaula Kuan Flyover had no signage, we stopped to ask the men standing there and they told us that it was a bus stop.
The ‘Last mile’ Connectivity:
As the evening grew later there were very few autos and rickshaws outside the metro stations. No metro feeder buses were seen. On the outer ring road no autos stopped when we tried to hail one. At Kirti Nagar Metro Station there were rickshaws that were going to Kirti Nagar and Moti Nagar only.
The Safetipin App is a useful tool to clearly define exactly what needs to be improved to make public spaces safer and more accessible for women and others.