Latha is a visually challenged MPhil student in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai). On 15th July, she boarded the Garib Rath from Delhi to Mumbai, when she had to pay for the same ticket twice.
In 2014, she graduated from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore with a BA in History, Economics and Political Science. She is now studying the progression of rural women in higher education.
She went to Delhi to appear for an interview into the JNU MPhil course. At the JNU admin office, the staff member accidently took her original ticket to reimburse the fare. She realized this when she was already on the train the Mumbai when the TT refused to accept a photocopy.
As she explains in her letter, she had a picture of the ticket and her Aadhar card with her. But since the ticket was booked offline, the TT refused to accept anything except the original. Her name was on his list of passengers, but the ID wasn’t proof enough. They argued for half an hour before she agreed to buy another ticket – one that she already had. “I was alone there. I was worried that he would make me get off the train”, she explains.
“It is easy for me to understand when a person is uncomfortable while speaking to me”, says Latha. The TT was one of these people. He never spoke to her directly, but addressed her in third person, conversing through the attendant in the train. “Akele travel kar rahi ho kya”, he would say. (Are you travelling alone).
The IRCTC has a concession policy for visually challenged passengers. The concession certificate is available here and requires only an ID proof. Latha paid Rs. 1020 for the first ticket she bought. The receipt for the second ticket, she confirms, was genuine.
Three stops before her Bandra stop in Mumbai, the rest of the passengers in her coach got off the train and Latha found herself alone in a coach. She had no idea whether the platform was on the left or the right. There was no help. “I overheard some attendants in the coach next to mine. I made my way there and somehow asked for help”.
She usually travels alone, with only minimal help to get her settled in for her journey. Her escort drops her off at the train, and waits at a spot that is previously decided upon. There are no problems, usually. If she needs anything, the other passengers in the train help out.
A 2013 Indian Express article mentions that all Garib Rath trains must have special accommodation for physically disabled people. There is also the SLRD, which is an unreserved coach for passengers with disabilities. However, there is no mention of visually challenged passengers, or any ground staff who might be able to help them. The attenders in trains aren’t given any such instructions either.
On the phone, Latha sounds very matter-of-fact. Her friends were unhappy that she relented so easily. “What could I have done if he made me get off the train?” She hasn’t filed a complaint yet, but she plans to, after giving it some more thought. “How inhuman can someone be?” she asked.
Feminism India ran Latha’s piece on 18th July, after which a doctor on Twitter complained directly to the Railway Ministry. However, after taking Latha’s contact information, there has been no follow up, while Latha herself is not sure if she wants to file a complaint.
Here is Latha’s account of the incident.
Date : 15th July, 2016
I am Latha PM, a visually challenged candidate, who appeared for MPhil Educational Studies interview in Jawaharlal Nehru University on 13th, July, 2016. While returning to Mumbai, I took Garib Rath from Delhi Sarai to Bandra Terminus on 14th morning. I had booked an offline ticket in Garib Rath express, train no 12215, coach no GD1, Berth 3.
I was travelling alone without an escort as it was not possible for me to arrange one for myself while I had to appear for the interview process in Delhi. Hence, I went ahead, travelled alone to appear for the interview process. For the purpose of reimbursement, by mistake I submitted the original ticket at JNU office and was not able to collect it back, but I had the image of ticket, PNR and other details with me on the phone.
Unfortunately, may be the bureaucracy and railway officials did not like the concept of a person with disability traveling alone and hence fined me because according to them I should have had the hard copy of the ticket. I told them, pleaded, sharing the ticket on phone, sharing the PNR number, my Photo Identity and JNU interview letter/Viva letter. This went on for almost half an hour and still finally the official made me pay 1020 rupees fine for the ticket I already paid.
As I had no escort, at that time I had no idea if I received the genuine receipt and nor I wanted to get down from the train on a unknown station. Being a research scholar, exploring positions of women with disability in higher education, facing such bureaucracy from Indian railways came as harsh reality to me. I had photo of the ticket in my mobile, carried enough ID proof’s along with a copy of JNU Viva letter/interview letter. In spite of me having the PNR number and my name appearing on the register book of the TT, I was made to pay extra money only because I did not have the original hard copy ticket with me!
The bureaucracy who made a student pay fine of 1020 rupees, without agreeing to negotiate, disappeared with their responsibility next morning. After Borivali station there was no attender nor TT to assist me to get off the train. As all the passengers in the coach got down at Borivali Station, I was alone in the coach from Borivali to Bandra, contemplating as to which side the platform will come for getting down. With such confusion, I managed to move to the next coach and met attendants to help me get off the train.
I am sharing this experience to reach more people, to share how simple things are made inaccessible and difficult for the person with disability in the name of bureaucracy and cultural norms in our country.
Narendra Modi ji’s nobel attempt Beti Bachao Beti Padhao dream look distinct with these kind of officials and bureaucracy. The system in place is undermining the confidence of women with Visual Disability trying to be independent at least in the ways possible.
I can only request you readers to share this, possibly to reach the Railway Minister, Shri Suresh Prabhu and Minister of Human Resource Development, Shri Prakash Javadekar. These incidents won’t stop me to pursue higher education or raising awareness among many more like me. At least such incidents should not occur in future and not stand as a hindrance to an opportunity for a person with disability to achieve independence.
Thank you for reading.
— Thanking you
School of Development Studies
Tata Institute of Social Sciences
“It always seems impossible until its done” -Nelson Mandela