We always learn lessons from the troubles faced by us in our lives. We can’t learn by watching somebody undergoing stress or reading about them. It is no longer a wonder why Mahatma Gandhi travelled all over India in general compartments of trains. Gandhiji’s intention was to know about the real India before leading the freedom struggle movement. I understand that he was definitely right in those days to commute in general compartments to learn about the troubles faced by common man in India. The common man has to undergo several hardships while commuting in general compartment of the Indian Railways. I am now a witness to the fact that how many lakhs of passengers are punished daily as they are common people.
I had to travel in a General Compartment of the Indian railways. As per the railway timetable my journey from Delhi to Mughal Sarai is only 12 hours. Since the waiting list position of my ticket was above 400 hence there was no chance of getting a confirmed ticket. So I thought I could undertake my journey in general compartment during day time. However, my journey exceeded beyond 20 hours which is close to spending an entire day in train. Now let me share my experiences while commuting in the train.
Whenever a person boards a general compartment on a busy route, his first dilemma is to enter the coach as early as possible. Later, he has to struggle to find a seat. If one is unable to get a seat, then he has to either climb up and sit on the luggage carrier or get ready to sit on the floor of the compartment. Co-passengers will also trouble him while moving around the coach. Normally in one seat (i.e. a berth length in sleeper coach) six to seven people sit. In other words, irrespective of different body masses, it is compulsory to fit. Luggage carriers are normally occupied by three to four people. Two persons share the single side-seats. Many people would sit on the passage and the place in between the seats. Thus large number of persons occupies a compartment which is actually meant to accommodate eight persons. Adjust, adjust and adjust… is the philosophy.
Since these compartments are isolated from sleeper coaches, they are deprived of food supply. Even when train halts at a station, no foodstalls are available near to the coaches as they are on the rear end of the train. By the time sellers reach near these coaches, the train is already set for departure. Thus only few commuters sitting near the window are able to purchase food items. However, most of the passengers help their co-passengers by ordering food through windows.
The toilets in these coaches are unhygienic as they are seldom cleaned by coach attendants. There is lack of water supply too. If male commuters themselves find it difficult to use these toilets, then imagine the fate of female passengers. To add to the woes, one of the toilets is occupied by few commuters due to space crunch in the coach. The passengers can’t expect the fans in the compartments to function anyway. If the windows are opened, then those commuters seated near it feel cold and if it is shut, then the insiders feel suffocated. Thus once again, the only means to survive is to ‘adjust’.
This is how the general compartments function in our country. I had seen the pictures and videos of crowded trains. I had also noticed people sitting on the roof of the coaches. However, these incidents never made me realise the hardships faced by people while travelling in this manner. After a long journey spanning 20 hours, I was eagerly waiting for my station to arrive and alight from the coach as soon as possible. Once I got down at the station, I felt like a bird which was freed from the cage. I looked back at the coach. No one else got alighted, instead three commuters boarded it. Most of the passengers had to travel another 10 to 12 hours for reaching their destination. Does Railways really bother to serve the poor people who mostly travel in these general compartments?