‘’अरे संसार संसार, जसा तवा चुल्ह्यावर; आधी हाताला चटके तेव्हा मिळते भाकर’’ (To earn the bread one has to fight difficulties in life)
I always remember above lines of the poem written by great Marathi poetess, Bahina Baee Chaudhary, whenever I see the crowded Mumbai local trains, those ladies coaches squirming with women trying to cling to any part of the coach (literally any part which could be either a side of door or middle bar). Alike me, these are the working women of Mumbai who are bereft of any feeling of danger, try to push carelessly each other to have entry into the train coach; some of them get successful entry and some of them don’t but they have to fight for life because as the above song lines says, they are out of home to earn the livelihood for the family, no matter how tough are the difficulties they have to face them. I am one of those lakhs of working women in Mumbai city who daily travel through the hell and come back to the home by evening or night.
I stay in the suburbs of the Mumbai city in India. I and my fellow commuters do not have any other viable option to enter in the Mumbai city so we prefer travelling by railway’s local train service. As we say here that if one is born and brought up in Mumbai, the person doesn’t need any special education to get into the local train; it comes as an inborn skill. I remember, during my college days I started travelling alone by local train and till date I hardly have any other option to commute till Mumbai town area as we live in Mumbai suburb part which is far away from the main town. Car travel is too time consuming and costly if one travels daily to the office so everyone prefers local train travel, though it is a dangerous travel. I have had experienced it more than twice, those memories get me shiver right now too. I was pushed out of the running train while it was leaving platform and I was tugged with the train’s foot door as I barely succeeded in clinging to the foot step but fortunately both times I got saved. In Mumbai city, daily 1-2 women commuter do lost their life while trying to get into the train. Many of my cloths had been tore apart in these crowded local trains. Twice I became a suffocated victim of stampede which started due to cancellation of trains. Every day when I catch the local train I have to call my mother to make her sure that I am safe and not injured.
Why it is so dangerous? Credit goes to increased population in the city and suburbs and undisciplined citizens. Every morning I have to rush into the heavily crowded local train. I can catch the train only after 4-5 attempts that means the mad rush don’t let me into the train at all and I have to skip the train for 4 to 5 times. Triumph gets only after spending minimum 20-30 minutes on the attempts. Meanwhile I can be injured while I get thrashed by the crowd; I could be pushed down on the platform or out of the train too. When I enter into the train I feel badly suffocated as I cannot move any inch of my body because I almost become the chip of cluster of women. Few women faint down due to the suffocation in the crowded local train. Injury, fainting, falling out of the running train are quite a routine risks of local train journey in Mumbai. There is also one danger of chain-snatchers in the train, who easily snatch the gold ornaments or money wallets taking advantage of the crowd. My another fear is contagious diseases or diseases which can be spread through breathing, since we women in the train actually stand overloading, clutching each other, close contact of body parts is inevitable. If I stand at the foot door step part of the train, there is risk that I can get injured by stone pelting from slum dwellers residing just close to the railway lines or my purse can be snatched by the thieves standing in the lines. Late night or early morning molestation in the local trains is another danger in Mumbai local trains, which can be a risk to the life. We do have railway home guards for the safety of women and I really appreciate that they work for our safety risking their own life. Men and women home guards travel into the women local train coach till late mid-night and early morning. Due to less number of home guard staff they cannot accompany every train.
I don’t feel safe at all when I travel by a local train but as all I can understand there are only two options for me, either to travel or not to continue the risky local train travel. I know, if I would feel afraid of travelling into a local train, I cannot earn my livelihood so I prefer waiting for slow and less crowded local train. We, as the residents of this city do know that population growth is something we cannot personally control but we can travel with discipline which we aren’t. We do not enter into the local train by making queue but that’s an easiest option to follow and this way we can save life risks too. I see many women deliberately stand at the edges of local train footsteps and almost throw their half body outside of the train. I, myself go to such ladies and I tell them politely not to do such risky acts and request them to find safer place in the local train. If I get a seat to sit in my 1 or 2 hour long local train journey, I offer my seat for some time to any needy women commuter standing in front of me; after all it’s hard to stand for long after a tiresome day. Very few women commuters do share their seats but many of them don’t.
Any injured women commuter may develop a phobia of train travelling but one needs to avoid that. I as a daily commuter expect a safe local train travel, women-friendly facilities available on railway platforms like clean & hygienic toilet, rest room and a special women casualty ward to treat injured women. I had experienced that many of our suburb railway stations do not have special medical ward devoted to women. Last year when my mother (age 76) was seriously injured when she was pushed down by another women commuter who was running blindly to catch the train, we did not find a special room for women patient. We ran to the railway station’s general medical room where my mother sat down on a chair for long time and we moved her to hospital when we called up private ambulance, since no ambulance facility was available with the railway station. This is how these days Mumbai local trains are becoming highly insecure place for women here but that doesn’t mean a halt in our routine. Our local trains represent our social life and they are our support system too, so one needs to carry away with the life. As we say, life must go on, I decide to fight with all the difficulties I face in my local train journeys and I once again step out of my home to catch the train and to join the chaos.