Two sides of a railway story

I just finished sending a draft of my literature review to my supervisors as part of my assignment (which is apart from the thesis — to improve safety of women in public spaces). It felt like I was on a roller coaster of discovery. The amount of works around feminism(my favourite subject), women’s safety, her rights to the city etc. The more I read, the more I am drawn towards the social science side of it, than actual planning. I say this, because I am writing this thesis as part of gaining my Urban planning degree. So the need arises to limit myself from drowning into the interesting, but irrelevant literature. So far the works of Shilpa Phadke has impressed me. In her works, her voice is so strong as she narrates her experiences through her works in Partner for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR).

My husband is from Mumbai, so he keeps narrating stories about his time spent there. Travelling on the Mumbai local trains is a popular choice for lots of Mumbaikars. He tells me stories about how jam-packed the Mumbai local trains are; but still assured a place, if you stood in between the pushing crowd. He would narrate various encounters in the trains, stories about how they used to literally hang onto the trains making it on time to work.

Early in the morning, as they go to work, there were various places where the train would move slowly. Sometimes these would be along the railway lines where people were defecating. The position they assumed were similar to participants playing kho-kho. So boys on the train would touch the heads as the train passed by saying, “kho”. Irritated, these people would start cursing and the boys would have a good laugh.

Although I always laugh at his prankster stories, yesterday while reading Phadke’s works I realised that a lot of these stories have many sides. Another version of people defecating along the railway lines was due to bad sanitary conditions. A lot of the lower-middle class families did not have toilets within their house, so they had to sit in open areas. This meant danger for ladies and young girls. From the fear of being spotted and embarrassed, they would relieve themselves before 4am or after 10am. It was during these times, when there is hardly any light (as there are hardly enough streetlights) women are faced with sexual abuse.

When I read these kind of experiences, see violence against women reported in the media, I wonder if making education a mandatory thing, irrelevant of class, race, income or anything, human behaviours could be changed. Worse comes to worse, the consequences should be so great (that I can’t even begin to describe, though I might in some other issue) that perpetrators would not even dare to think committing a crime.

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