Tales of commuting in Mumbai railway locals are legendary. Every commuter worth his or her salt has an interesting, annoying, horrifying, amusing, or depressing anecdote eulogising the legendary Mumbai spirit.
For every newcomer’s tale there are scores veterans could relate. Recently several videos shot in Mumbai local trains went viral, some pleasant, some downright ugly with women indulging in physical skirmishes, literally tearing off whatever is within reach, most often each other’s hair.
Experts attribute the tempers on short leash to increased workload, especially for women in the post-COVID scenario. Reasons for fights among women travellers could vary from grabbing a seat to tagging along a male teen relative into the ladies compartment.
A rebuking tone with a heightened rejoinder could escalate into a war of words which could take on the form of a fisticuff.
Noted city psychiatrist, Dr Harish Shetty, cites being overworked as the main reason for low tolerance in women. “Women compromise on food, sleep and personal space causing imbalance in mind-body coordination, leading to emotional instability.Often the soft targets for the resultant outburst are neighbours or fellow passengers. Soaring cost of living, resentment against the state also adds to the stress."
Commuters rushing into a full compartment and staking claim to a seat is a common practice. When any other person takes such a reserved seat, an argument ensues. “Second class” travellers who board the first class compartment get a hostile reception.
A commuter said a lady with a general class ticket got into the first class compartment in a hurry as the train was about to leave the platform. Regulars in the compartment complained that she was crowding in an already restricted space. Stressed women are not even receptive to kindness.
According to a not-so-regular commuter, when she offered her seat to a weary office-goer instead of shifting for the inconvenient fourth seat, her offer was rebuffed with “don’t want your charity” shrug. A push or even an elbow nudge could spark off a row.
Following the ‘survival of the fastest’ rule, women who are slow in boarding or alighting get yelled at. Women push and shove to getinto the train without any regard for safety.
"Squabbles over seats, nearly a daily affair, sometimes turn into ugly brawls. The verbal abuse turns physical, with women pushing, slapping and even pulling each other's hair," said a frequent commuter from Dombivli.
"Habitual footboard travellers, blocking train doors, take umbrage to objections and become abusive," said Manasi Dhumale ( 43) a commuter who frequently travels between CSMT and Kalyan.
Some regulars travelling for years have an unspoken rule, they share seats only among their select group. Others aware of it give them a wide berth. “Anyone inadvertently occupying such seats is let off with a warning not to repeat the ‘offence’. Taunts follow and the situation turns ugly,” said Vijaya Laxmi, a regular from Thane.
Some women kindly offer to seat a child of standing women on their lap, when the mother disagrees, it becomes a cause for a fight. The mother also has to put up with rebukes from fellow commuters for being callous enough to travel in a heavily crowded train with children in tow.
“If a mother travels in a women’s compartment with her son above the age of 13 years, she is forced to get down withhim and board the general compartment," said another commuter.
“The daily average on our helpline 1512, is over a thousand calls from both Central and Western Railway men and women passengers, of which action can be taken on about 70 – 80 of them,” said Quaiser Khalid, Commissioner of Government Railway Police.
“Exact data of fights among women passengers is not available as most go unreported, but we get around 15 calls related to heated arguments every month from both CR and WR passengers,” a Mumbai GRP officer said.
Insentive video making
A female GRP constable who has been working in the suburban section for more than a decade opined that women commuters seem to have run out of patience. Besides, handy smartphones are the prime reason for videos of fights going viral.
Agreeing with her, an RPF constable said, “Most women don’t bother to interfere or counsel the warring women, they prefer tomake videos instead.”
(With inputs from Shefali Parab-Pandit, Urvi Mahajani & Sherine Raj)