Negotiating Commuting Spaces by Women in Delhi Metro

Safecity- Elsa D'Silva
Posted March 26, 2021 from India

The Delhi Metro is an engineering marvel and is hailed as one of the top ten metros in the world in terms of network length and annual ridership. It is the most crucial addition to the city’s transportation infrastructure which has not only transformed how people travel but has also influenced in creating a dynamic socio-cultural public space for the burgeoning megalopolis. It has inculcated an image of efficiency, orderliness and imbibed a sense of ‘sophistication’ (Sadana, 2010) into Delhi; which has been a melting pot of culture; an amalgamation of deep historical roots, and of modern techno-centric urbanism. The positive image of the metro propagated by the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC) has garnered public support and attracted patronage, especially from the women. The Delhi Metro has quietly revolutionized women’s travel in public transport which was until now inconvenient, dismal, arduous, and risky.

Additionally, the metro railways have instilled dynamism in the cultural milieu of the Delhi-NCR urban ecosystem and have evolved as a determining character in the cityscape. With the gradual expansion of its services into the interiors of NCR, the Delhi Metro has aided in linking women residing in economically potential neighborhoods to the commercial city-core. Metro has enormously eased connectivity and accentuated mobility of women from across NCR who commute relatively safely for work, education, and leisure. The Delhi Metro system has slowly blended the narrative of the urban morphology towards social and gender inclusivity equipped by smart technology. It has not only altered urban mobility but has primarily catered to the needs of women including the elderly and the disabled. It has further steered public social behavioral norms and generated vitality into the fabric of the social life of the city. 

The striking presence of a separate women’s-only coach at the front end of the train; marked by a distinctive pink colour is perceived as a safe space by the women commuters. Any presence of male passengers in the ladies’ compartment is strictly monitored through CCTV surveillance by CISF personnel and attracts immediate tracking, deboarding, and penalty from the trespasser. Women’s safety is greatly upheld within the metro premises and there has been an observable change in the behavioural pattern especially among the male commuters. There seems to be an invisible code of conduct and commuting etiquette that passengers mysteriously abide by; queueing up for security check, waiting for a vacant seat or vacating a seat for pregnant and elderly women, restraining from spitting and littering within the premises, and patiently giving passage to the people who deboard the train.

Given the vast geographical expanse of Delhi-NCR, and the prevalence of a relatively higher crime rate, the operations of metro rail services since 2002 have increased women’s ridership in public transport as it is viewed as a secured and convenient mode of travel. Traveling in a women’s only compartment has become a ‘phenomenon’ in Delhi (Tara, 2011), given the fact that women’s accessibility to a city is restricted owing to lack of safety, male company, and agency. 

Consequently, the metro has eased women’s commute, facilitating greater accessibility and participation, to the available economic and socio-cultural opportunities, under the comfort of air-conditioning in a mode which is not only faster and affordable but which operates with clockwork precision and punctuality, unlike other conventional modes. The comfortable travel and ample space mean that travel time has been productively used by women commuters. The multitude of activities such as reading, working on laptops, watching movies on smartphones, students studying, knitting, self-grooming, and sometimes even peeling vegetables and other chores however amusing, has been witnessed within women’s only compartments. Metro premises provide a dynamic space for interaction; for leisurely hang-out and quick business exchanges. The women’s coach literally transforms into a shared community space and has given them a chance to stay out late. Access to public space is vital in establishing control and maneuvering gendered space. Metro has carved out a niche in terms of promoting safe and liberating travel for women especially at night, harnessing commuter discipline, cleanliness, and sensitivity among the users, and affecting work-residential choices and mobility-related decisions among women. 

Moreover, mass travel has helped to break down the social rigidities and caste-class prejudices to some extent. It has shown how social identities are transformed by the appropriate spatial setting; in this case, instead of here metro travel space, which acts as a ‘leveller’ (Desai 2007). The Delhi Metro has enabled rendering social harmony by smoothly tying up the diversity and complexity of its inhabitants yet keeping the essence of the city intact (Sadana 2010). The Delhi Metro thus stands as a quintessential example of how gendered segregation of space and anonymity in metro travel has facilitated in negotiating a greater sense of wellbeing for the women and given them a perceived notion of autonomy along with scope for upward socio-economic mobility.


About the author: Sudeshna Roy

Dr. Sudeshna Roy is an independent research consultant with Sathi All For Partnerships and she writes on gender, urban, livelihood, and health issues.


Views expressed are that of the author.

Comments 8

Log in or register to post comments
Tamarack Verrall
Mar 26
Mar 26

Dear Elsa of Safe City,
What tremendous news! I remember well travelling through your country in 1969 in the women only sections of the trains. We were crowded but we had a great time meeting and sharing stories in safety. But what you describe here is an important reminder of all the ways that safe travel for women remains a priority need, and what crucial benefits are made available with careful and extensive planning, as Delhi now has established. I love that in the same area computer work is being done and vegetables prepared, with all of the women travelling safely. A huge congratulations to the city transportation planners!

Mar 26
Mar 26

Hello SafeCity Elsa,
Thank you for this piece on how improvement of the urban transportation metro area and the dynamics put in place is helping to make life easier and productive for women. It is good to see how colour can be a powerful tool here, in this case, a pink colour being seen as a safe space for women.
May more of such be emulated so women continue to stay safe and productive within their cities, communities and countries.

Aparna Sanjay
Mar 26
Mar 26

Kudos! I was a commuter on Delhi Metro for almost 3 years (Haus Khaz to Gurgaon) and I loved how it was a safe way to travel a long distance in great comfort, in a city where that is often not possible. Trains were clean, on time and yes I always used to be in the ladies coach where many a time I have seen CISF personnel run into a coach and drag the men out to the great glee of the women passengers :)

Mar 27
Mar 27

Hello beautiful ,
Good evening and happy weekend . How are you doing ? Trust you are safe and good ? Thank you for sharing this wonderful writeup post with us . We truly appreciate you and look forward to seeing more post from you . Love Chi

Nini Mappo
Mar 28
Mar 28

Wow, this is worth emulating in other countries too. It is a genius idea to create women's spaces, and what a glowing report of the impact that has had on different facets of life affecting women! Thank you for sharing.


Dear SafeCity,
Thank you for sharing your lovely story. This is great work- creating women's safe spaces!

Rajashri Rajashekhar

Dear Dr. Sudeshana,

beautifully articulated. good to be here to know you. I am from Mumbai.
stay in touch.

Rajashri Rajashekhar