The Disingenuous Railway

Kerala Sampark Kranti was supposed to reach Madgaon station at 9.30pm on the second day of the journey. We were not exactly waiting for the destination. The gravid green scenery hill piercing the clouds and suddenly falling into valleys that gave u a sense of levitation, the extremely plain fields filled with water being sprinkled with rain, the rivers and waterways with canoe and a calm demeanor, looked at through the clean glass window of a higher-class compartment could go on forever. The waiter, although announced, Madgaon station was expected at about 2.30am in the night, apparently because during rainy season, trains ran slow in Konkan railway and there were stops at about 8 hours apart. We ordered dinner. After dinner, with just the darkness outside the window, and a noisy kid inside, I grew restless as I always did in train journeys. The same waiter in an usual nonchalant face said, “Madgaon will come at 11pm”. Most of us, first-time visitors, hurried to get our luggage together.

Cyani, my younger brother doesn’t bother. Did he just sell us a dinner we might not have needed, he asks.

We had been discussing how the railway is milking travelers. Take “tatkal scheme” for example.

Sometime back tatkal could be booked 2 days (i.e 48 hours) in advance of the departure time of the train from the source station. There was a reason for that. Those who book tatkal ticket are either the one who decided to travel just 2-3 days before their travel day or the one who booked earlier but got a higher-numbered-waiting-list that might not convert to a confirmed berth. When the second category people booked tatkal ticket, they simply cancelled their regular (called general ticket) before 24 hours of travel and got the entire fare refunded minus the cancellation fee. Now, since tatkal policy is changed (to booking 24 hours in advance) without changing the cancellation and refund policy, the second category traveler will forfeit 25% of the fare of the regular ticket. Since tatkal ticket can’t be cancelled, that 25% is assured profit to the railways.

Can you guess when this change took place? Mamata Banarjee did a lot of hoo-halla, sacked Dinesh Trivedi for his anti-people fare hike and installed Mukul Roy as railway minister who went on to do roll-back the fare-hike (in March/2012) and did this change in tatkal booking time in June/2012. Nobody protested.

We don’t know if we should protest, half the times and the rest of the times, we are not sure if protests work. Take for example, the railway “Toilets”.

Railway toilets are actually open defecation systems, and with higher-class compartments only the number of times they clean is higher. Even after Bezwada Wilson indicted Railway and the Govt. in prime time national television with Amir Khan, nothing came forward. No provision in the budget, no program for its elimination and quite predictably no protest from the people. Mostly because the people who can protest and be heard don’t care. We believe it doesn’t affect us. How many of the traveler actually hold off nature’s call at the platforms, even though it is suggested to do? Don’t you always see the railway tracks in platform soiled and smell a pungent, very characteristically railway odour there. It can affect everybody’s health, the manual scavenger’s heavily, not even the travelers are not immune to it, especially very young ones. Read here. ” Faeces contain germs that, when released into the environment, make their way onto children’s fingers and feet, into their food and water, and wherever flies take them. Exposure to these germs not only gives children diarrhoea, but over the long term, also can cause changes in the tissues of their intestines that prevent the absorption and use of nutrients in food, even when the child does not seem sick. ”

So may be, next time you travel, put a letter in the suggestion box, you may not find one easily. My coach said the complaint/suggestion box was with the guard. That may not be enough anyway, but it cant be left just like that.

Mamata Proves Mayawati Right

Had Mamata Banerjee not walked out of the TV recoding due to be televised, we would have never known what she was talking about when she blamed the audience to be Maoists. In the last part of the program that continued without her, rallying the popular theme of an intolerant head-of-state, none of the audience came forward to defend her, or to provide an alternate view. In the state where popular opinion is deeply divided along party lines, and that of basically the two dominant parties (CPI (M), the opposition and the TMC-the party in govt.), none of the participants of the program spoke TMC tongue. To cement her suspicion, even after she questioned the reference only to Jadavpur university students, no one from any other universities come forward and identified. Except for one man, who was from IIM-Calcutta.

So were they all Maoists?

“You don’t look like a Maoist to me”, said Sagarika Ghose to the last person to question before a railed Mamata walked out. So what does a Maoist look like, Sagarika? Not like Arundhati Roy or Binayka Sen, I suppose? How about Soni Sori?

The audiences probably were not Maoists, who came to defend the right to expression, dissent and drink (totally anti-Maoist!!), to question about lack of women’s safety . But these would be exactly the same audience (and I don’t mean the same individuals), if Mayawati was to accept such platform in those numerous TV debates that sprung up against her, and in which Mayawati never appeared nor she sent any representative. The problem with these audiences is the lack of an opinion. Under their garish English and vociferous ideals, there is an utter lack of opinion, which  has followed its natural course of being. The questions they wield, the opinions they display and conclusions they draw reek of the breath of their parents views and seethe tone of tv/newspaper they follow. With their unflinching attachment to institutions, they can not appreciate a shift in popular narrative of a leader, development, growth and governance. As few columnists belatedly find there were areas other than parks and memorials where Mayawati made radical contributions, as newspapers find one or two dalit/obc/muslim columnists once in a blue moon, an audience, at least a part of who looked beyond NCERT textbooks for their education and newspapers for their opinion, is awaited. Till that time, leaders like Mayawati, Ram Bilas Paswan, Laloo Yadav, A Raja and some unfortunate Mamata Banarjee would only be answerable to the legistative assembly, and the court of law where as Arun jaitly, Sushma Swaraj, Arwind Kejriwal and Digvijaya Singh will adorn the TV channels.

P.S- I do condemn any dissent labelled Maoists or anti-national.