Ticket in hand I walk myself over to the ladies compartment. I smile vaguely at some familiar faces knowing that in five seconds they are going to be pushing my ribs- shoving their long hair, big bags, and bangles in my face and up my nostrils. The local in Mumbai is an incredibly intense sensory experience. The pitter patter of the incessant rain coupled with the unyielding downpour of the Mumbai masses is not for the faint hearted. But I love it here. No other city is like this one. I remind myself of this when an aunty ji decides that getting her bag in the train, is much more important than me getting to work in one piece - as she nearly jostles me off the train.
I begin my regular habit of looking around the compartment and silently reviewing what everyone is wearing. It isn’t called the fashion capital for nothing. The train is where you know you’ve made your as your mark as a designer. If they are copying your designs, you’re here to stay. A jingle plays in the background “Chup Na Raho, Report Karo”.
Dial 182 for help says the up-beat voice of a man in Hindi. I hope I never have to use that information, but I make a mental note of it anyway.
I am lucky. I found a seat. The fourth person on a bench designed for three. I plug in my ear phones and close my eyes trying to distance myself from my surroundings for the next hour and a half. I am lost in thought.
We are the strong, empowered, engaged, independent, women of Mumbai and our lives do not halt despite the unforgiving monsoon. The trains carry us from station to station, criss crossing across the city and we ferry our children, our parents, our laptops, our groceries, our notebooks and textbooks pursuing life to its fullest. Why then do we halt when someone whistles in our direction? When there is an unwelcome hand in an uncomfortable place?
When it happens, we do a double take, in that instant, the cultivated confidence that we spend a lifetime building may not be enough - we don’t always know what to do, whom to talk to or how to get help. We don’t always trust that action will be taken against the perpetrator.
“Awaaz Do…” goes the jingle as I open my eyes, two stops away to my final destination.
A ticket checker is going about her day, person to person ensuring that everyone has a valid ticket. I look up at her as she checks mine. “Sab theek hai?” she asks as she hands it back to me. Everything is not alright, but I have faith that one day, it will be.
As I leave the station, I have one last thought that gives me hope. Empowered women make all the difference. If we know our rights, stand up for them and stand up for each other, we’ll be headed in the right direction. And like the trains, our lives will not halt for anything.
Editor’s Note: This opinion piece was submitted by an employee at Amnesty India. The administration at the Mumbai Division Western Railway is cognisant that there are lakhs of women for whom commuting on local trains is a regular part of their everyday routine, and they have the right to feel safe. Therefore, the Mumbai Division, Western Railway has partnered with Amnesty International India to embark on a five year journey to empower commuters and enhance gender sensitivity of railways employees through regular training and awareness building activities.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Amnesty International India.