International attention has been brought back to the significance of railways in Indians’ daily lives as a result of a tragic rail accident that claimed nearly 300 lives.
Images of men and women squeezed into crowded cars do, in fact, function as a metaphor for contemporary India to many Western observers. Consider a report from the German journal Der Spiegel about China’s population being surpassed by that of India.
seated in the back row
The colonial administration offered low rates, particularly in third-class vehicles, the least expensive class of rail travel, to entice the “natives,” as the British frequently referred to their colonial subjects, to utilise trains.
The choice to decrease fares seems at odds with the capitalist venture’s profit-driven goals, which were funded by private firms with UK incorporation.
But because the Indian government was covering their earnings, British investors and stockholders in these private businesses didn’t have to worry about losing money. Whether or not the enterprise was profitable, the colonial government of India promised these companies a 5% annual return on their investment.
The new Indian railways attracted more and more passengers despite the sceptics.
When rails became operational in 1854, there were 500,000 passengers; by 1875, there were 26 million. Annual passenger numbers reached 175 million by 1900 before nearly tripling to 520 million by 1919–20. By the time of India’s division in 1947, there were more over 1 billion passenger journeys every year. In fact, the upheaval of partition was symbolised by images of crowded trains since they were utilised to transport large numbers of displaced people across the future Pakistan-India border.
Nearly 90% of the passengers in this trade were third-class, the majority of whom were Indian.
However, there was no decrease in prices as a result of these rising numbers. Additionally, they did not lead to any appreciable changes in the cramped, unhygienic third-class travel circumstances.
In contrast, railway corporations sought “the greatest economy of space and load,” as one rail management put it. The situation was made worse by subpar rolling stock, much of it imported.
The majority of British railway management appeared unwilling to address systemic overcrowding, including the transportation of humans on livestock-designated waggons. Instead, they argued that the unusual customs and tendencies of Indian passengers—such as their reported dislike of empty coaches and their propensity to flock together “like sheep” into crowded carriages—were to blame for the congestion.
These qualities quickly became more widely accepted, particularly among Western thinkers. Although “unversed” in railway administration and traffic control, journalist H. Sutherland Stark wrote in a 1929 article for the trade journal Indian State Railways Magazine that he recognised railway facilities were not the issue. Indian passengers, on the other hand, lacked the mental fortitude, “self-possession,” and “method” required to travel like “sane humans.”
Stark proposed passenger education as a remedy for the alleged issue, turning railway travel into a tool for “self-composure and mass orderliness.” He was hardly the only person to make the connection between sensible public conduct and sensible railway travel. In the 1910s, nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi advocated teaching railway passengers as a strategy to build a civic body of citizens, even as he denounced railway management for continuing the humiliations that third-class passengers endured.
Source- the print