Bioethics Blogs

Regulations versus hierarchies: Commuters creating inhabitable worlds in the Mumbai suburban trains by Annelies Kusters

During a group discussion at the India Deaf Society about the suburban trains in Mumbai, Bhaskar, a young deaf man suggested that a new rule could be introduced in the trains’ “handicapped compartments” (as they are called by Mumbaikars). He thought that the number of conflicts over the occupation of seats would be abated if a reserved-seat area was installed within the compartment. The reserved-seat area would be for blind people and for people who have disabilities in their legs or back which cause difficulties in standing, and not for deaf people and people with minor disabilities. As such, he suggested the idea of formalizing a binary hierarchy of bodies, in contrast with the complex hierarchies that are in play on an everyday basis in these compartments. His suggestion implies that he thought an increase in formal rules (imposed by the state or the railroad governing body) about how to inhabit and use the space of the compartments would be desirable.

Every day about 7 million people ride the Mumbai suburban trains, which constitute the most intensively used and overcrowded rail network in the world. In contrast to public transport in most other countries, in Mumbai, the trains are compartmentalised in a complex manner based on gender, class, luggage type, and “handicap”: the first and second class general compartments, ladies first class and second class, luggage (for vendors with loads) and the above mentioned “handicapped compartments”. Compartmentalising ideally makes travel without sexual harassment possible for women and provides people with disabilities and people with luggage with relatively more space to enter, alight and navigate the compartments.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.