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Mumbai Local, Ladies' Special

In many urban areas around the world, the railway system is the city's lifeline, and this is certainly true for Mumbai. What can we learn about safety from passengers on the Mumbai Local?

Photo of Karolle Rabarison
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Trains have always captivated me, and I've developed a particular affinity for the Mumbai Local. There's something about being an air-sucking speck among the 8 million Mumbaikars commuting by train every day. (That's 2x the daily ridership of NYC's subway system.) 
When moving to a new city, one of the many things you have to learn is what I like to call train culture. In Mumbai, train culture varies slightly according to the compartment you're traveling in: first class, second class, general, or ladies'.

I am convinced the best place to learn about what it’s like to live in this city—including, for this challenge, how we might make areas safer and more empowering for women and girls—is the ladies’ compartment on the Mumbai Local. All life plays out here. In one corner are three women sifting through trays of jewelry and hair clips as if shopping were a competition. Seated on the floor are two others shelling peas. Squeezed on a bench across the way is a gaggle of teenagers commuting to college, each balancing a notebook to finish the previous day’s homework. Here ladies eat, work, pray, nap, shop, and occasionally get into full-on physical fights. Most importantly, here ladies talk—about everything. 

As part of this research phase, I'd like to chat about safety with the men and women who make their way around Bombay by train and update this post accordingly. Among a million other thigns, I wonder:
  • What can we learn about safety from the women who travel on the Mumbai Local?
  • How does the perception of "safety" differ from line to line, station to station?
  • What are examples of situations when men have felt unsafe on the trains?
  • How might we encourage fellow commuters to look out for each other's safety, especially at night?
  • Do ladies' only compartments and the Ladies' Special (a whole train for women only) make trains safer for women or reinforce gender imbalances?

Tidbits, preliminary observations from my own experience on these rails.
  • Ladies' second-class would be a far better space to learn and interrogate than first-class. 
  • I do feel more comfortable in the ladies' only compartments. In a perfect world, trains would not need to be segregated, but I can't deny that I am thankful that they are. Friends with whom I've discussed this feel the same way. They would be much less likely to commute by train in the absence of the ladies' car or the ladies' special.
  • For every male train-groper, public-masterbator, and catcaller out there, there are thousands other men riding these trains who are looking out for the safety of women and girls (and everyone). 
  • There's an unspoken sense of safety in numbers. Both during the day and at night, I've seen women shift cars if the one they're in empties at a station. 
  • Officers travel in both first- and second-class ladies' at night for added security, but their presence doesn't affect women's behavior.

Note: I started to write about the above points in detail, and it turned this post into a 1000+ word stream-of-consciousness storytelling sort of ramble. So! For the sake of keeping this contribution digestible, I shifted those bits to my personal blog ( here) for those who want to read more.

Enough of that. Here's where I'd love your input.

What questions might be useful to ask frequent passengers of the Mumbai Local?

If you live in Mumbai and have experienced the trains, what have you observed about passengers' behaviors that might be relevant to this challenge?

If you're not in Mumbai but live in another urban area with a popular rail system, what behaviors have you observed that might be relevant to this challenge?


Join the conversation:

Photo of DeletedUser


Hi Karolle, i have been travelling in the 2nd Class compartment of the Mumbai Locals since the past 10 years. I have recently started a blog which covers various aspects of the Ladies Dabba (in local Mumbai Lingo). Check it out if you please, it may be a repeat of what you have already covered, or you may also get some fresh insights.

Photo of DeletedUser


You can also check out my FB page specifically which will cover the Ladies Dabba.

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