Also included for first dibs were women from an old-age home. Valsamma held my hand, and said, "Aap Hindi hain?" Without waiting, she smiled and started talking to me in broken Hindi "I am old. I can't travel very often like this. But it feels very nice to be taken so comfortably in this metro. I have been hearing metro, metro, metro for so many days. Now I am here." We both smiled and held hands for a bit longer.
This is just a glimpse of some of the reasons that the Kochi Metro has been winning hearts. Kochi Metro Rail Ltd officials have been able to load a mode of transport with strong emotive issues by reaching out to various sections of the population. Kerala's elderly population is the highest in country and expected to reach 20% by 2026, according to a survey. And with the sizeable youth population migrating abroad, an inclusive approach for the elderly has been a concern for Kerala. The state has been well acknowledged for its efforts like the first state transgender policy with focus on ensuring constitutional rights to them in 2015. And making many like them an inherent part of the launch and very identity of the metro itself is being seen as a remarkable effort.
It has become not only about the latest technology which has been used or the aim of easing traffic congestion, but the metro has kept these people at its core.
Kattu is for the first time experiencing being herself. In all the jobs that she has done earlier, she withheld her true identity. But here, everyone knows her as a transgender. "Just today, I was cleaning the metro station, and two families stopped by to talk to me. They asked me if I was happy and being treated well." She narrated several such instances that established how the metro has empowered her. There are many like her who have been given a fresh lease of life and respect by being trained and offered jobs in KMRL or the Kochi Metro Rail, which also ensured around 60% of its employees are women.
The Kochi Metro was commissioned in 2012 when the Congress-led coalition was in power with a budget of about 5,000 crores for 25 kms. The stretch that is now operational runs 13.2 kms. The project has been constructed by the Delhi Metro Rail Limited, which came with the mega bonus of E Sreedharan, India's "Metro Man", as its special advisor. He received thunderous applause at the inauguration ceremony on Saturday that was frontlined by PM Modi.
"We are happy that most of the government schemes are unidirectional, but we have been able to combine this metro project with several poverty-alleviation projects. And I am sure this is the best aspect of Kochi Metro," said Elias George, the Managing Director of KMRL.
Traveling on the metro, Lalu K, a differently abled Basketball player on a wheelchair, said he appreciates the Metro's facilities for passengers like him. The city's buses and trains lack this inclusive design. "But this metro is a step in the right direction. At least a beginning," he said.
(Sneha Mary Koshy is NDTV's Kerala correspondent.)
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