A bizarre situation turned the Khardah railway station of Kolkata on Monday into a battleground. It began when the women passengers of the Matribhumi local train found that three compartments had been turned into general compartments, thus allowing male passengers to board the bogies.
They pelted men with stones resulting in a clash so violent that the riot squad was called in.
It must be noted here that till Sunday the Matribhumi local was a Ladies Special train.
The clash left at least eight passengers, including two women, 11 policemen, and a woman constable, injured and disrupted the Sealdah-Ranaghat line for more than four hours.
The disruption also caused more than 40 local trains to be cancelled, which in turn left over a lakh passengers seeking an alternative mode of transportation.
A survey conducted earlier – and cited by Railway authorities – had found that only 30% of the ladies special trains used to be occupied during the rush hours, while all the other trains going on the same route were always overcrowded. The situation was so bad that according to authorities, many of the male passengers had sent them requests asking them to introduce general compartments in the ladies special trains on the route.
The railway officials decided to take the advice of the male passengers and converted three of the nine compartments of Matribhumi into general compartments.
Following protocol they published a notice informing of the change in the local newspaper.
A railway official also said that similar arrangements had been made and successfully implemented on other routes like the Bandel and Howrah sections earlier this month and they had faced no trouble in the process.
Talking about the incident, Barrackpore police commissioner Niraj Singh told The Telegraph that the clashes had injured many passengers and police officials.
“We have arrested the people after they damaged the level crossing gate on Khardah Station Road and at least 11 policemen and a woman constable have been injured.”
When Kaberi Mondal, a women passenger who was involved in the incident was asked what the problem was and why was this such an issue, she said:
“This is our train. Since the introduction of the train we have been reaching the city without having to jostle for space or seats with men, If the railways convert some coaches into general compartments, this train will become like any other train.”
Not happy with the attitude of the women passengers, a male passenger Amit Sadhukhan, who was to board the train, said:
“Daily, we cling to the doors while travelling on locals while women stretch their legs over seats on a Matribhumi local, we were allotted only three compartments while the remaining six were reserved for women. But they still have a problem.”
While looking at the situation from an outsider’s perspective one can easily infer that both the parties had valid points, but to resort to violence just to prove one’s point is going to the extreme. While rest of the world has moved on and looks at men and women as equals, a tussle over such petty issues just shows how far India has to go before they finally get to a point where they will discuss things in a more refined manner.
It would also be interesting to know that while women in India take pride in demanding men to clear the ‘Ladies seat or Compartment,’ most women in North America take it as a sign of disrespect if men voluntarily vacate their seats for them.
They believe that such actions they are not being looked upon as equals.
What is more, the concept of ‘Ladies Special Seat or Compartment’ is reserved mostly for the East, as in US and Canada, you will only see reservations for the Handicapped, Elderly or the Expecting Mother. And even those reserved places are called “curtsy seats”.