While railway authorities in the city gave expecting moms the green signal to board train coaches earmarked for the handicapped over two years ago, pregnant women still have to put up a hard fight for their space in these compartments in some cases, quite literally.
Seema Gupta, a physiotherapist in her eighth month of pregnancy, had a terrifying experience on a Virar-bound train earlier this month when a physically handicapped co-passenger took severe umbrage to her presence in the compartment, and assaulted her.
Gupta (25), who is a physiotherapist, is now in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. Speaking to MiD DAY over the phone, she said, “I have a very traumatic memory of my experience in the ‘handicapped’ coach of the local train. I cannot forget the incident. I was very scared that something bad would happen to me or my unborn child.” Gupta got married a year ago and is carrying her first child. She works at clinics in Sion and Nallasopara.
On December 5, Gupta boarded the Virar-bound train from Bandra station to reach her clinic in Nallasopara. “It was rush hour and there was no place. I went inside and stood in the aisle. Suddenly, a lady sitting on the third seat asked me to stand properly. I was leaning on the seat as I was in a bit of pain,” she recalled.
According to Gupta, the handicapped woman then punched her, hurting her stomach in the process. “She immediately stood up and slapped me. I asked her why she had assaulted me, and she picked a fight with me, saying that I was not allowed to board their compartment. In the course of the quarrel, she slapped me so hard that I collapsed,” said Gupta.
Passengers then called the helpline number. Railway cops showed up at the Borivli station, and they escorted the shaken woman to the police station. “She was fine after some time. We sent her for a medical test that confirmed that she was fine. We have forwarded the complaint to Bandra railway police for further procedure and enquiry,” said a railway police officer from Borivli.
Scarred by the incident, Gupta says that she will not dare to step foot on a train till she is over it. “I think railway authorities should think seriously about their rule and should make sure it is being followed. It’s really difficult for pregnant women to travel like this,” added Gupta, saying that pregnant women should be given separate coaches, so that they don’t have to face such incidents. She added, “I would have gone and filed a complaint had I not been a physiotherapist. I know the pain that handicapped persons suffer every day.”
Jitendra Karelia, president of the Disability Advocacy Group, said, “The pregnant woman also hit the handicapped lady with her leg, injuring her.” Inspector Pradip Padavi, GRP (Bandra), said, “We have registered a non-cognisable complaint for both the parties.” Even in the past, pregnant women have received stiff opposition from the groups of commuters travelling in the coach for the handicapped — usually physically challenged commuters and cancer patients.
Reema Vaz, a resident of Airoli, is eight-months pregnant. She said that while she did travel in the reserved coach for a few days, but stopped doing so. She said, “I travel to Byculla every day. People escorting handicapped children to school are also known to travel on the same compartment, and even when they see a pregnant woman standing next to them, they do not bother to vacate their seat. Besides, the compartment for handicapped people allows both men and women to board it, and so it is always crowded. Even vendors board these compartments and occupy these seats, but rarely does anyone say anything to them.”