Record 5.4 Million Women Travel for Free in Karnataka Buses

Since the implementation of the Shakti scheme in Karnataka, offering free bus travel for women, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Within just five days of its launch, an impressive record was set as over 5.4 million women availed themselves of this opportunity, highlighting the significant impact the scheme has had on women’s mobility and empowerment.

The Shakti scheme, one of the five initiatives promised by the newly-elected Karnataka government, aims to provide women with free bus travel on non-premium services operated by state-run road transport corporations. This scheme holds great potential to transform women’s lives and their societies. By enabling and supporting women’s mobility, the government takes a crucial step towards achieving gender equality.

Throughout history, enhanced mobility for women has often led to revolutionary changes in their lives and the societies they belong to. However, patriarchal societies have often responded with suspicion and resistance. In the 19th century, the introduction of women’s education, which required their movement from home to school, faced significant backlash. 

Presently, women enjoy greater mobility and societal acceptance. However, the provision of free state-owned public transport takes this mobility to new heights, bridging gaps across class divisions. Mobility encompasses more than just spatial movement; it represents social, personal, historical, and cultural experiences. For women, the availability of free transportation opens up access to destinations that fulfill emotional, economic, social, and personal needs.

The introduction of free state transportation provides women with opportunities for personal growth and empowerment. It allows for more frequent visits to their natal homes, fostering closer ties with their families. Women can embark on journeys for spiritual enrichment, break away from domestic routines, choose educational institutions freely, and explore employment options.

The scheme’s greatest impact will be felt by economically marginalized women who bear the burden of supporting their households. For these women, who often work in low-paid jobs or engage in informal sectors, the scheme helps them save a significant portion of their earnings. Moreover, it expands their travel possibilities beyond daily commutes, offering leisure and pleasure experiences.

The Shakti scheme has the potential to bring women together as a community of travelers. Previously loosely linked, they can now form stronger connections as neighbors, family members, or fellow workers. During their journeys, they can temporarily escape the constraints imposed by kinship and institutional structures, fostering friendship and engaging in shared pleasurable activities.

The scheme fundamentally remaps women’s imagination and experience of navigating social, geographical, and personal worlds. It provides agency and enables them to explore new possibilities. However, patriarchal restrictions, economic dependencies, internalized limitations, and fears of backlash or harassment may still hinder women from accessing this newfound mobility. Social and institutional structures must adapt and accommodate women’s expanded mobility.

By supporting women’s mobility, the state can bring about transformative changes in individuals’ lives and the overall organization and regulation of women’s trajectories. When women have the freedom to travel to destinations of their choice, a gradual but significant transformation towards a more egalitarian and liberating society can occur.