KOCHI: The state government announced a ‘Women-Oriented Nava Keralam’ in its recent budget. But while we rejoice, it is high time we take another look at the major ‘She projects’ that the governments before had introduced. Some of them died an early death. Those who ventured into the projects when they were in the spotlight are now regretting their choice. The officials also admit that some of those well-publicised projects were crushed on the roll and need to be replanned to turn them to profit.
Siji K I of Edappally, the first woman bus driver from Ernakulam district, ventured into the She Taxi in the early days when the project was started in 2013. Now, women like her who joined the project feel that they are getting no support from the agency that connects them to the customers, and they are running the taxis only on the personal contacts they have.
“The help from the agency stopped many years ago. The loan that I took for running the She Taxi finally claimed our house as well. It was instrumental only in plunging us into a debt trap. I quit my job as a bus driver and started She Taxi in 2014. At that time, claims and advertisements were attractive. But now, I am running as a normal taxi driver and banking on the network I have developed to pay back my debts. I also try to dissuade other woman drivers who want to join the She Taxi project,” Siji said.
The much-hyped project of the Gender Park received worldwide attention through publicity and was instrumental in throwing many women into debt because of a lack of management. Though more than 30 women were part of the project in the initial phase, most of them dropped out due to loss.
Officials at the Gender Park admit the project was a failure and need improvisation. The number of drivers has also come down to nearly 20 now. The authorities blame it on the BPO agency that failed to attract enough customers and route them to the woman drivers. Though She Taxi was relaunched in May 2020, it could not meet the expectations. “There is a need to revamp the whole model as such. The call centre, in the beginning, had to be changed due to their lack of support and we are planning to introduce an app that can coordinate many systems at one go,” said one of the officials.
The same was the plight of She Autos launched on an experimental basis by Thiruvananthapuram City police way back in 2016. The project could not survive more than two years, said officials. The Nirbhaya incident in New Delhi was the reason to start the project and received much hype in the beginning. Similar initiatives were made in other cities including Kochi and Kozhikode, but none of them could make progress.
“When the officials who started the project left, there was a lack of enthusiasm from the successors. Adding to that, when departments other than the ones directly connected to women’s safety take up such projects, the enthusiasm is likely to die down after the initial days. In the beginning, there were many issues with the online taxis and the women-friendly autos run by female and male drivers drew the support of the police. Later, there were no budget provisions or funding and the support gradually stopped,” said a police official on condition of anonymity.
Being run by various local bodies including corporations and municipalities, She Lodges, is running smoothly and provides shelter for women who arrive in the city for a short time.
Planned in line with the She Taxis under the Gender Park, She Buses, as a state-owned autonomous service, also died a premature death before an official launch.
An initiative of the home department, Pink Police is one section that gained too much public criticism. Introduced to help the women and children in public spaces, many times, they have turned out to be moral police roaming around in the cities, with not much work to do.
In the recent budget, total outlay for gender projects is I4,665.20 crore. This is 20.90% of the state’s total plan outlay. Of this, I15.55 crore is set apart for e-autos for women, I2.25 crore for working women’s hostels, and I24 crore for Nibhaya and gender awareness and women empowerment. Of the existing projects, only She Lodges, promoted by the local bodies and Kudumbashree, are running smoothly.