Migrants & trains

'Jungle' compartment

Print edition : October 14, 2017

Krishna. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Niranjan Kumar. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Hari Singh and Khaman Singh. Photo: Divya Trivedi

A migrant worker. Photo: Divya Trivedi

At the New Delhi railway station. Most short-distance trains that migrant workers take are either infamously late or ply only once or twice a day. Photo: Divya Trivedi

THE afternoon heat cast an overbearing weight on New Delhi railway station. Passengers lounged in the shifting shadows to keep from getting baked. Drowsiness came easily in the sticky atmosphere. Some dozed lightly on newspapers, cardboard cutouts or even scraps of paper. Others sat on their haunches, listlessly staring at nothing in particular. All were waiting for a train to arrive.

Most short-distance trains that migrant workers from Delhi take are either infamously late or ply only once or twice a day. In either case, passengers need to spend inordinately long periods waiting at railway stations. But this is not the worst part of the journey. In fact, it is a good time to rest tired muscles and stretch a bit.

Once the train arrived, there would be no rest. The scattered crowds would transform into a single super-organism that would rush forward in one direction. Most migrant workers travel by the general compartment, but some of them have other names for it.

General nahi jungle ward hai. Hamare Minister kyon nahi yatra karte is mein [not general, call it the jungle ward. Why don’t our Ministers travel in them]?” quipped Shambhu when this journalist nudged him out of his wakeful slumber to discuss the perils of his daily travails.

A little distance away, Hari Singh was waving (imaginary or real) flies out of his face with a gamchha [thin towel]. His relative Khaman Singh was staring at the tracks below, fighting to stave off a nap. “ Agar so gaye toh train ja sakti hai [if I fall asleep, I might miss the train],” he said. Residents of Fatehpur Sikri, they were returning from a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi. They had taken Himsagar Express from Katra and after a more or less comfortable journey of 15 hours, arrived to face a humid Delhi. They make the journey every year. Did they not think the station looked cleaner than before? “What’s that? Delhi, Agra and Mathura are the dirtiest stations in the world. Stations beyond that are much cleaner. It seems as if all the dirt congregates in Delhi!” said Khaman Singh. They had to kill a few hours before catching the shuttle to Palwal and the onward journey. They had a question for the Railway officials. “If a train is starting from its source station, why should it be late?”

On the other side of the station, Niranjan Kumar, Jogender and their friend idled in a semi-circle as only people who have known each other for a while can. Niranjan Kumar was from Madhubani in Bihar and worked as a tailor in the capital while Jogender was from Nalanda and dealt in scrap paper. From Bata Chowk to Delhi, a journey they have to make, is not much of a distance but the local train stops at every conceivable spot. They try to board the express trains that ply on that route but these are always crowded. The general coach is nothing to write home about: passengers have to do most of the journey standing.

Niranjan Kumar said it was not impossible for the government to solve these issues if the political class had the will. “The number of general coaches is few compared with the number of people that use them. They should at least add two more coaches to ease the burden. Besides, if there is only one train that goes to some destinations every day, then it is common sense that it will be overburdened. They should make the train ply two to three times a day at least,” he said.

At a distance removed from all the men, sat Krishna on a bench. She does not like travelling and that too alone, but of late she had not been keeping well and so had to travel from Hapur to Delhi for treatment at the G.B. Pant Hospital. Her train was an hour late, but she was not worried. It was par for the course. Coming to Delhi meant a whole day gone. She was thankful for the ladies coach in the train; if it was not there, she would have been distraught. She complained of unclean toilets and said often she had to simply hold it in unlike the men who can relieve themselves on the tracks. “Men go whenever they have to. Women go when they are near a usable toilet or get privacy,” she said. She suggested that the Railways add more coaches and increase the frequency of local trains.

Sona Mewati, a graduate student in Delhi, travels to her hometown Kanpur on and off by train. She said that every time she boarded a train, she was mentally prepared to contract an infection. “I travel by all classes and each one has its own set of problems,” she said.

“From Moradabad to Chandausi, doodhiyas [milk suppliers] travel on a daily basis. The train is called ‘doodhiya train’. They hang their steel cans along with their bicycles outside the windows of these trains. Why not give them a separate milk train?” asked Gaman Singh from western Uttar Pradesh, tongue firmly in cheek.

Divya Trivedi

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