Women Safety in Public Transport System: Role of National Transporter

Women’s formal workforce participation is low at 14.7 percent. Women are mostly employed in the informal sector in our country, due to which most workplaces that women travel to are not in the central business districts of cities.

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Mobility pattern of women in India: Causes, Safety Concerns

According to the 2011 Census of India, women and girls make up close to 50 percent of our urban population. They comprise only 19 percent of ‘other workers’ ie, workers other than agricultural labourers, cultivators, and home-based workers and this is the only category of people we have mobility information for. Yet, 84 percent of women’s trips are by walking, cycling, or public transport. National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data also shows that more than 60 percent of both rural and urban households use the bus as their primary mode of transport, followed by auto-rickshaws. This clearly shows that women primarily depend on public transportation for their travel needs, and a bad public transit system can have a direct and disproportionately higher negative impact on women. 

Women’s formal workforce participation is low at 14.7 percent. Women are mostly employed in the informal sector in our country, due to which most workplaces that women travel to are not in the central business districts of cities. Women’s trips also tend to be during off-peak hours. Owing to their care work responsibilities, women often leave the house after the men have left for work and before the children come back from school—hours during which the frequency of public transport is lower, thus increasing their waiting time. Hence, transport planning typically caters to the needs of men employed in the formal sector, who travel from periphery to centre in the morning and back in the evening. It does not cater to the travel patterns and needs of a large portion of women, particularly those working in the informal sector.

Women’s travel is also characterised by ‘trip-chaining’. They generally combine multiple destinations in one trip because of a double burden of economic activities and care-related activities. For example, going to the office might involve dropping off children at school on the way, and coming back from a leisure trip might involve picking up groceries. Due to this, women’s trips are generally shorter, more in number, and often require that they travel in the opposite direction of the final destination, diverting from the most direct route, and/or breaking the whole journey into multiple legs. Public transport agencies typically set up fares such that multiple short trips cost more than a single long trip. Women end up paying more than men because of the difference in travel patterns.

Mobility is the primary connection between women and opportunities for economic independence and bears a huge impact on women’s empowerment. The World Bank states that women’s mobility is affected by restrictive socio-cultural norms, a lack of safe and sufficient transport infrastructure, gender-blind planning and governance, and a lack of access to information and communication technology.

Women’s forced mobility and immobility

Women step out of the house for multiple reasons. In some cases, mobility is even forced. For example, women living in lower-income settlements or areas that lack basic facilities such as water and sanitation are often compelled to travel to access sanitation facilities or collect water. However, the opposite of this forced mobility is forced immobility, which is caused by a number of factors including but not limited to economic poverty, time poverty, social norms, and the perception of safety.

  1. Economic Poverty: Research at the intersection of women’s economic poverty and mobility highlights the fact that for the urban poor and women, transport plays a dual role—as a service to be consumed, and as a connection to opportunities. In cases where expendable income is not available, women are forced to reduce the number of trips and when that is not an option, they primarily depend on walking because there is no direct economic cost to it. Though cycling is a good alternative, usage is quite low due to social stigma and/or harassment faced on the street.
  2. Time poverty: Women also face time poverty, which is the lack of time for rest and leisure after accounting for time spent working (in the labour market or performing domestic tasks), and on other activities. Women’s greater domestic responsibilities coupled with their weaker access to household resources can result in the use of less expensive and slower modes of transport, especially when they are from lower-income groups. This means that if compelled to wait too long they may have to give up on the whole trip. Women often plan their trips more strictly than men since their trips are also interlinked with children’s school timings and the times at which family members return home.
  3. Societal norms: Societal norms that dictate that the man in the family is the breadwinner are also likely to lead to women becoming the first to give up on trips that cost money and time (especially if it allows the husband to go to work). In many cases, children’s school timings and locations also prevent women from having their own travel plans because women are still held responsible for the care of children.

A study by the Asian Development Bank states that women turn down better-paying jobs if the travel conditions are not safe, require travel at odd times of the day, or do not satisfy other lifestyle conditions. Apart from safety, women also place importance on comfort and quality because they often travel with children and elderly whose physical safety depends on it.

  1. Perception of safety: The final element of forced immobility is also probably the most important because it is something that is imposed upon women by society, and by women upon themselves. The lack of safety in public spaces and public transport remains the most concerning aspect of mobility. Even in cases where individual women have not faced any direct form of violence, the fear of what might happen continues to be a deterrent. This limits women’s movement and the distances they travel alone.

The risk of sexual harassment also has a major impact on women’s mobility, accessibility, and confidence. Multiple studies conducted by organisations in Delhi, Mumbai, Guwahati, Bengaluru, and Chennai show disturbing trends of high levels of sexual harassment faced by women while waiting for or using public transport. The harassment that women face is normalised. It has become an everyday phenomenon that everyone assumes to be the norm. Apart from the actual victimisation, the fear of it can also have a crippling effect.

Need for gender-responsive mobility planning

Freedom of movement, mobility rights, or the right to travel is a basic human right, as declared in Article 13 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The question is then, why are women in India not as mobile as men?

The answer to that is a simple one. A report by the OECD states that ‘Gender is one of the key socio-demographic variables that can influence travel behaviour, but it is often the least understood.’ Whether it is for education, employment, or regular household chores, women stepping out of the house is a decision that is thought through carefully. Mobility planning is not as well thought out, considering the specific needs of women. In other words, it is not gender-responsive in nature.

Women are forced to make strategic decisions to overcome this lack of planning. They are put in a position to demonstrate that they deserve a certain level of safety, whether it is by travelling in groups, wearing only certain kinds of clothes, not being in public spaces after a certain time, and so on. This prevents them from accessing educational opportunities, jobs, and in some cases, even healthcare.

Mobility is the fulcrum that connects women to economic independence, which will in turn ultimately take us closer to the goal of women’s empowerment. Hence, it is of critical importance that we ensure that mobility planning is gender-responsive and accommodates the needs of the most vulnerable sections of society.

As a public transporter steps taken by Indian Railways for women’s safety

Indian Railway issues guidelines to prevent incidents of Crime against women in trains and in railway premises. Twenty three (23) million passengers travel through the Indian Railways everyday out of which 20% i.e. about 4.6 million are women. In the recent past, the incidents of crime against women in trains and railway premises has been a major area of concern. Therefore, the following steps as part of a focused effort across Indian Railways to collectively strive for safety of women passengers and to mitigate atrocities against women in railways:

It may be noted that as per Indian Railways the action plan suggested to be implemented should be classified in Short Term & Long Term Plan. Short Term plan should be implemented immediately from the existing resources on priority without any delay. It may include keeping watch on suspects, regular visit to vulnerable spots by duty officers & staff during their rounds. However, Long Term Plan which may include improvement of Basis Infrastructure, CCTV, Light Masts, etc. which may take a reasonable time, should be chased with concerned authorities on regular basis and till such time it is completed, focus should be kept on temporary minor works that can be effective in improving the situation, which may be worked out and got implemented with bare minimum expenditure or with available resources.

The various preventive measures suggested & planned to be adopted are as under:

  1. Proper lighting arrangements should be ensured covering all vulnerable places identified in Railway Stations, Circulating area, Parking, FOBs, approach roads, ends of platforms, Yards, Washing lines, DEMU / EMU Car sheds, Saloon Sidings, Maintenance depots, etc.
  2. Abandoned structures in platforms/yards, abandoned quarters, buildings at isolated places which  remain unguarded/ unattended should be demolished immediately in consultation with engineering department. Till such time that they are demolished, they should be regularly checked as part of the beat of on duty staff especially during night time or period when the presence of people is minimal.
  3. Unauthorised entries/ exits should be closed.
  4. Yards / pits/ nearby railway area of stations must be kept clean of unwanted vegetation which may provide cover for concealment. View cutters such as these may offer opportunity to offenders to  commit crime.
  5. Waiting rooms should not remain unattended and persons should be allowed to enter the waiting rooms after proper entry, particularly in nights and at times when there is minimum presence of passengers. It should be cross checked by the duty officer at odd hours.
  6. Proper Police Verification and Identity Cards of staff engaged on contractual basis engaged in services related to passengers should be ensured as per SOP & GCC. No staff without Identity Cards may be allowed in trains and railway premises.
  7. No unauthorised person may be allowed to move in Yard and coaching depots where the coaches are stabled. There should be controlled entry system.
  8. Before the empty rakes are moved to washing lines, it should be ensured that the coaches have been checked properly by the C&W and Electrical staff and locked. The condemned coaches kept in yards/ sick lines must be kept locked and checked from time to time.
  9. After cleaning & other activities pertaining to maintenance of coaches, again it should be checked properly and locked in the washing line and brought to the platform in locked condition.
  10. Proper basic security arrangement should be ensured in coaching yards & depots.
  11. Surveillance system should also be enforced in coaching depots & yards.
  12. Encroachments particularly in/ near passenger area should be removed on priority following legal process and unauthorised entries to railway premises should be closed.
  13. Railway is providing free internet services to the passengers. It should be ensured in coordination with the service providers that the porn sites are not accessible through this service.
  14. Unwanted /Unauthorised persons in the railway premises should be rounded and prosecuted and railway station, yards & trains should be kept free from unwanted 8s unsocial elements.
  15. Special drives may be launched to apprehend and prosecute persons consuming alcohol in railway stations and trains
  16. Exemplary action should be taken against railway staff involved in such offences.
  17. The cases of crime against women must be followed up till their logical conclusion.

Sensitisation activities:

  1. Sensitisation of all railway employees and contractual staff may be done. Staff engaged in checking of rolling stocks, porters and hawkers/vendors should be encouraged to report the incident without loss of time to Police/ RPF or the Station Master. Help of NGOs may also be obtained for this purpose.
  2. It has been noticed that generally cases of eve teasing, if remain unattended, lead to increase in incidents of molestation or assault on women. As a measure to prevent such crimes, GRP/RPF officials shall promptly take necessary action on receiving complaints regarding any type of ‘Crime against women’.
  3. Regular briefing of staff at mounting and debriefing at the time of dismounting should be ensured by the Post Commander/Duty Officers/ Shift In-charge.
  4. All Zonal railways may utilise cultural troupes for Nukkad Nataks etc to sensitise railway passengers towards cleanliness, respect for women, legal provisions for security of women and children and penal provisions for violation of these laws.
  5. Railway personnel across all departments should be sensitised regarding their duty towards women and children through soft skill and gender sensitisation training in various training institutes. They should be trained to identify women in distress or children in need of care and protection and respond properly. Special sensitisation programs should be arranged in ZTI/Training Centers where Railway Employee or RPF undergoes initial/periodical trainings.
  6. Sensitisation sessions may be conducted for women to come forward and report incidents of misbehavior against them.

Surveillance over the identified vulnerable area:

  • CCTV surveillance system should be used effectively. Time to time audit of the cameras installed and the area covered by them should be done. It should be ensured that all the  persons visiting the Railway Platform/ Passenger area are caught on the cameras.
  • The vulnerable places identified for such crime should mandatorily be covered under the CCTV surveillance. While planning for location/ relocation of CCTV it should be kept in mind.
  • The position of women’s coaches should be fixed at the platform and CCTV camera to be especially installed on the platform at that point so as to provide adequate coverage of these coaches.
  • CCTV feed should be monitored by officers regularly.
  • Crime Intelligence Branch & Special Intelligence Branch should be utilised to ensure surveillance of the area identified to be vulnerable for rape and other heinous crime related to human body (women) in addition to being done regularly by concerned RPF executive staff.
  • Use of National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO) may be made for keeping surveillance of offenders residing in that area.

Special measures to be adopted for prevention of crime in trains:

  1. Escort parties to be briefed properly about the steps to eradicate chances of such heinous crime in train. They should be extra cautious during the night.
  2. Toilets are the most common place where the incidents have been reported in past. As such any gathering of persons near the toilets should be removed.
  3. Usually Coach attendants/AC Mechanic remains at their allotted seats near the entry/exit gates which can be helpful to have surveillance over the space. Escort  party should ensure briefing of these staff and pantry car staff who are moving in the trains, taking them in  confidence to report any suspected activities or probabilities of such crime to them and the escort staff should act on it properly.
  4. Proper care should be taken for Security of lady passengers travelling alone or with small children by focusing on proper implementation of Meri Saheli initiative.
  5. Escorting staff should be briefed to be courteous with passengers especially with ladies passengers.
  6. Train Captain/ Suptd. should be asked to cross check the identity cards of all out sourced staff working in the train. PCSCs/ Sr.DCC should coordinate with their counter parts of Commercial, Electrical, S&T and Mechanical dept. counterparts to ensure good coordination between all staff on board and ensure that all the outsourced staff bears Identity Card issued after proper Police Verification. Cross checking should be ensured by these departments also.
  7. It should be ensured that the CCTV cameras and Emergency Response System installed in the coaches are in working condition and are attended properly.
  8. Usually, ladies coaches are near/with the train Guard in the tail end of trains which at many places remains outside the Platform area. Escort parties and station RPF/ GRP staff should ensure that they are attended properly at the halting stations.
  9. Staff deployed in train escort & in yards should be careful when the train approaches or leaves the station where the speed of train is restricted and criminals usually jump out from the running train. They must ensure that the persons jumping from the trains are apprehended and questioned for further necessary action.

Notice for passengers:

  1. Though, the details of helpline numbers are printed on the reverse of train tickets, helpline numbers provided by railways should be widely publicised.
  2. People should be made aware of Pan India Emergency Response System and other important forum and calling facilities available for reporting offences and particularly offences against women in that area.
  3. People should be made aware of “One Stop Centre (OSC) which is exclusively designed to provide integrated services such medical aid, police assistance, legal counseling/court   case management, psychological, social counseling and temporary shelter to women  affected by violence under one roof.
  4. Proper advertisements educating the passengers should be published in various print, electronic and social media platforms.

Guidelines issued by Indian Railways advised All Zonal Railways and Production Units that these instructions are merely indicative and not exhaustive and acting proactively, field units may implement various other mechanisms to ensure safety of women depending upon local conditions and circumstances.

Few additional measures taken by Indian Railways for the safety of women passengers

  • Policing on Railways being a State subject, prevention of crime, registration of cases, their investigation and maintenance of law and order in Railway premises as well as on running trains are the statutory responsibility of the State Governments, which they discharge through Government Railway Police/District Police. However, Railway Protection Force supplements the efforts of GRP to provide better protection and security of passenger area and passengers. Cases of Indian Penal Code crime in Railways are registered and investigated by the concerned Government Railway Police. However, following measures are being taken by the Railways in coordination with Government Railway Police to ensure security of passengers including women passengers:-
  • On vulnerable and identified routes/sections, 2200 trains (on an average) are escorted by Railway Protection Force daily in addition to 2200 trains escorted by Government Railway Police of different States daily.
    Security Help Line number 182 is made operational (24X7) over Indian Railways for security related assistance to passengers in distress.
  • Through various social media platforms viz. twitter, facebook etc., Railways are in regular touch with passengers including women to enhance security of passengers and to address their security concern. Drives are conducted against entry of male passengers into compartments reserved for women passengers and persons apprehended are prosecuted under section 162 of the Railways Act, 1989. 
  • Ladies Special trains running in Metropolitan cities are being escorted by lady RPF personnel. In other trains, where escorts are provided, the train escorting parties have been briefed to keep extra vigil on the lady passengers travelling alone, ladies coaches en-route and at halting stations.
  • Frequent announcements are made through Public Address System to educate passengers to take precautions against theft, snatching, drugging etc. Regular coordination is made with the State Police/GRP authorities at all levels for prevention of crime, registration of cases, their investigation and maintenance of law and order in Railway premises as well as on running trains.
  • An Integrated Security System (ISS) consisting of surveillance of vulnerable stations through Close Circuit Television Camera Network, Access Control etc. has been sanctioned to improve surveillance mechanism over 202 railway stations.
  • In order to increase representation of women in RPF to the level of 10%, women RPF personnel are continuously being empanelled. CCTV cameras have been installed at 501 Railway stations and in 2019 coaches. There is a provision for installation of CCTV cameras at 6124 Railway stations and in 58276 coaches. Work for installation of CCTV at 6124 stations and 7020 coaches has been completed (Phase-1).
  • Emergency Talk Back system and Closed Circuit Television Surveillance Cameras have been provided in all newly manufactured Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU), Main line Electrical Multiple Unit (MEMU) coaches and Air conditioned rakes of Kolkata Metro. This system is also being provided in all newly manufactured air-conditioned EMU rakes and underslung MEMU rakes. 
  • Railways have already provided Emergency Talk Back system and CCTV in ladies compartments/coaches of existing 12 EMU rakes and 150 EMU/MEMU rakes respectively. Further, flasher lights are also being provided in ladies coaches in 15 nos. of EMU rakes in South Eastern Railway. When the alarm chain of the coach will be pulled, these lights will start blinking and buzzer will start sounding till resetting of alarm chain.

Special provision by IR in travel of women passengers

  1. Indian Railways reserves berths in the sleeper class of long-distance Mail/Express trains for female travellers 
  2. A reservation quota of berths in third-tier AC coaches of Garib Rath/Rajdhani/Duronto/fully air-conditioned Express trains have been allocated for female passengers.
  3. Indian Railways has introduced new measures to ensure the safety and security of female passengers in long route trains.
  4. According to the IR, berths are being reserved in the sleeper class of long-distance Mail/Express trains and a reservation quota of berths in third-tier AC (3AC) coaches of Garib Rath/Rajdhani/Duronto/fully air-conditioned Express trains are being done for female passengers, irrespective of their age, travelling alone or in a group.
  5. Also, combined reservation quota of six to seven lower berths per coach in sleeper class, four to five lower berths per coach in 3AC and three to four lower berths per coach in 2AC coaches (depending on the number of coaches of that class in the train) have been earmarked for senior citizens, female passengers aged 45 years of and above and pregnant women.

In terms of safety and security measures for women passengers, the IR states that Railway Protection Force (RPF) has been directed to supplement the efforts of GRP/District Police to provide better protection and security of passengers. Although ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are state subjects under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, additional steps are being taken by the Railways in coordination with GRP for the safety and security of passengers in trains and at stations.

The Railway Protection Force (RPF) has also launched a pan India initiative ‘Meri Saheli’ on October 17, 2020, with the objective to provide enhanced safety and security to lady passengers travelling by trains for their entire journey from boarding to de-boarding. The focus of the initiative is to provide security to lady passengers especially those travelling alone. The RPF is also training teams of lady officers and staff for the initiative.

Additionally, on vulnerable and identified routes/sections, trains on daily basis are being escorted by RPF and GRPF (Government Railway Police Force) of different States. Railway Help Line number 139 is operational 24×7 over the entire network of Indian Railways for security-related assistance to passengers in distress. The Railways also addresses to a passenger’s concerns if raised through various social media platforms i.e. Twitter, Facebook etc.

Lady RPF personnel have been deployed, who are escorting the Ladies Special trains. The train escorting parties have been briefed to keep an extra vigil on the lady passengers travelling alone, ladies coaches en-route and at halting stations.

To ensure women passengers’ safety, drives are conducted against the entry of male passengers into the compartments reserved for ladies. In addition to this, CCTV cameras have been provided in 4,934 coaches and 838 railway stations for enhancing the security of passengers.

An emergency talkback system and closed-circuit television surveillance cameras have been provided in ladies compartments/coaches of all newly manufactured Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU) and Air-conditioned rakes of Kolkata Metro. State Level Security Committee of Railways (SLSCR) has also been constituted for regular monitoring and review of security arrangements of the Railways.


Metro Rail News is conducting a 2nd Edition InnoMetro 2022 on 28-30 April 2022, virtually focusing on Seamless Mobility. Join InnoMetro 2022 for a detailed discussion on the topic “Women Safety in Public Transport System: Role of National Transporter”.

Join as a delegate: https://bit.ly/3uihjkd

Join as a Speaker: https://bit.ly/3N7lcRj

Join as a Partner: https://bit.ly/3widL3Y


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