NEW DELHI: New Delhi rolled out free bus travel for women yesterday in what the Indian capital’s chief minister called an “historic step” for safety and female employment. Female participation in the Indian workforce is among the lowest in the world, while violence against women in the world’s second-most populous country is rife. Yesterday, women were given pink tickets entitling them to free travel, with a message from chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on the back that said he hoped the move would empower them and their families.

Before, bus fares cost between 5 rupees (around seven US cents) and 25 rupees for vehicles with air conditioning, according to government data. The safety of women in the Indian capital has been under the spotlight since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a female student on a bus that sparked major protests. But Kejriwal said that from yesterday, there would be 13,000 “marshals” on buses to ensure safety for the 850,000 women who take the bus regularly in the chaotic megacity of 20 million people.

Sonia Rathore, 24, who works as an assistant at a firm in central Delhi said she was set to save around 2,000 rupees ($30) per month. “Those women who don’t earn more than 10,000 rupees or 15,000 rupees, this move will be very helpful for them,” she told AFP on a bus in central Delhi. “For me, I don’t end up spending a lot on buses because I only use it occasionally. But for those who go to work regularly, this will make a positive difference,” said Urmila Devi, a housewife. The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the move a gimmick ahead of state elections in Delhi due in early 2020. – AFP