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Local Train Boycott in Mumbai - When People scripted History
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
July 12, 2006. Time: 09:05 AM. Scene: a Churchgate – bound local train trudging along the tracks near Kandivali station on the Western Railway’s suburban line in Mumbai. The 9 – car rake that used to appear overflowing with hundreds of people jostling and fighting among themselves to grab a couple of inches of foothold bore a somewhat deserted look, with only a few commuters on board. Quite understandable, though. It’s barely 14 hours since terror came riding local trains to visit Mumbai. Yet, for those few commuters, it’s almost impossible to turn their backs on their friend of a lifetime. So, they’re back, as if nothing has changed. It’s business as usual, albeit at a lower tone. The train continues its journey, picking up and dropping passengers, though low in numbers, at every station. The platforms are not the usual beehives; neither are they suffering from commuter - draught.
Cut. Freeze the scene.
December 10, 2007. Time: 08.40 AM. Scene: Platform No. 2 of Mira Road station on the same western suburban line. A Churchgate - bound fast local has just touched the platform. On any given working day, every compartment of the train would have been packed well beyond capacity, and anybody hoping to get on board would have required more than a fair share of luck even to get a couple of inches of foothold on the footboard. But today… Surprise! Surprise…!! It’s Monday, yet not a single commuter visible at the door of any of the 12 coaches. The platform must be beaming with life, with at least a hundred people waiting restlessly to grab any opportunity to get hold of a precious few inches of space on the train. Yet… Surprise again! Not a single commuter is waiting on the platform! Except for a few policemen sitting on the benches and a couple of them standing nearby, and a stray dog wandering on the far end, not a single living being visible on the entire stretch of the platform!
Then, there’s a youngster stepping on the platform, alighting from the foot over-bridge. He’s not boarding the train, but is busy clicking pictures of the coaches, as if they were part of a historic monument. He’s then peeping into one of the second – class compartments through a window. And what’s the sight that welcomes him inside? Just two commuters, sitting in semi - sleeping pose at two far corners. Before he could take another click, the train has started moving. He steps back. On any other day, he would have been shaking his head in surprise and disbelief. But NOT today. For, it was exactly what he expected - or, rather, hoped - to see today. After all, it’s to grab this once - in a lifetime sight he’s been wearing that white badge with blue letters running along it since 5.45 in the morning. Yes, he is a volunteer of the ‘Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti’. His heart racing along like a prancing horse, mind beaming with happiness and pride, he walked out from the platform, down the entrance steps, to join other volunteers outside the station.
December 10, 2007. This date will remain etched in sparkling golden letters in the history of Mumbai for years to come. It’s on this day that 30 Lakh people living in the Mira Road – Virar belt along the western suburbs of the city decided in unison that it’s time to change the way they lived. Till that day, about 10 lakh people – the bread-winners of every household and their children as well – used to board the local trains every day in their quest to earn the day’s bread (or, in case of children, to garner education to ensure the same for the next generation) and travel for hours, being one among the crowd. Every minute they spent on board the trains used to be nothing short of outright torture. What else one can expect when (s)he is forced to share the space available with 16 other people occupying one square metre of space or hang on to the door knob or window frame of a train running at 75 kilometre per hour? If having to spend an hour (or more) sandwiched among 16 - 18 people won’t amount to torture, what else would? (Had it been any kind of animals that were being transported under such conditions, the person(s) responsible for the same would have been put behind the bars on charges of cruelty towards animals. But alas..! the law for prevention of cruelty towards animals is not applicable to the two - legged animals called ‘humans’!)
The local train compartments had thus become ‘torture chambers’, probably worse than the concentration camps under Hitler’s regime. And yet those 10 lakh people continued to endure the ordeal silently day after day. People falling off (or being thrown out of) running trains used to be a commonplace scene. The statistics available with the railway administration itself indicate that more than 3600 people have been dying every year on the tracks due to falling off trains. (That’s almost 10 people per day – or more than one person per hour of peak-time!) And this is ‘official’ figures. Add to that the numerous deaths unaccounted for, and you would have one death every half - an hour or so. That’s an alarming rate to say the least. If Hitler had killed a few lakhs of Jews over the years during his days, our Western Railway administration is killing some four - five thousand people every year - not very far behind Hitler! This scenario shouldn’t have remained unchallenged for long.
Setting the Stage - The Background Story:
By 2004, first voices of protest started coming up. It was a small group of youngsters, activists of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), who decided to take the railways head - on. Even though the organization itself was fighting the odds for survival, the lack of strength didn’t dent their enthusiasm. Even as the fast – growing urbanization forced more and more people to move from the city towards the suburbs and the population in the Borivali – Virar belt was exploding at exponential rates, the railway network was still in its childhood. Growing demands for more trains continued to fall on deaf ears. The much - awaited quadrupling of the tracks between Borivali and Virar stations was proceeding at less than a snail’s pace, and the railway administration used to cite this as a convenient excuse to fend the people’s demands away. Naturally, the track quadrupling became the core of the issue.
In the initial stages, the movement couldn’t muster much support largely due to the weak public base of the organization. However, they kept the flame alive with signature campaigns, small - scale demonstrations etc. Being aware of their organizational shortcomings, they also concentrated on building mass support with the help of other organizations - like Senior Citizens Forum, Movement for Peace and Justice etc. - as well.
The movement gained momentum as DYFI decided to take it up as a human rights issue, laying the foundation for ‘Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti’(PAAS), an apolitical organization which brought a number of other organizations that they had mobilized under one banner. The first ‘Right To Travel’ Convention organized by the PAAS in September 2005 turned the heat on with a call for ‘Rail Sathyagraha’ to be conducted on 10th December, the International Human Rights Day, in 2005. Hundreds of people joined hands, shedding political colours, and staged a ‘rail roko’ on the day at various stations in the Borivali –Virar sector, bringing the railway traffic to a standstill for more than six hours, at six railway stations in the sector - something that even the ‘big names’ in Mumbai’s political scenario couldn’t do before. Some stray incidents of violence – may be the natural reaction when suppressed anger in the minds of the people managed to show up – gave the railway administration ample opportunity to slap criminal charges on the leaders of the agitation and put them behind the bars for about two weeks.
Even though the Railway administration managed to iron - fist the agitation, they knew that they can’t sit idle on the demands of the public. The track quadrupling work suddenly gained momentum. The major ‘roadblocks’ were removed, and work resumed at a fairly good pace. However, if anybody thought that sense has finally dawned on the railway administration, they were seriously mistaken. It was just flattering to deceive. As the agitation showed signs of dying down, Railways simply went back to their usual self. After a couple of months of speedy operations, quadrupling work went off the tracks again.
The callous attitude of the Railways towards the long – standing demands of the public prompted the PAAS to take the issue up again. What followed was the second ‘Right To Travel’ convention. The need for rekindling the agitation was clear. This time, they decided that the agitation should be in a novel form and should not give any chance for violence to play spoilsport. The outcome was a 'Youth March’ – a protest march along the 12 KM Vasai – Mira Road stretch, parallel to the railway tracks, where the new tracks were supposed to be laid. Even though it was termed as a ‘Youth March’, there were a few surprises in store when the march took off – irrespective of age, people lined up under the banner of PAAS. Children as young as 8 - year old Yashashree Bhatkal as well as senior citizens in their sixties joined with the PAAS volunteers. Revealing the true spirit of the agitation, there were a couple of volunteers (Mr. S. M. Pattu and Mr. Sudheer Upadhyay) who didn’t allow even their physical disabilities to come in their way of showing solidarity to the movement. The International Human Rights Day of the year 2006 marked the dawn of a new era in the commuters’ movement when Com. Sitaram Yechuri MP, member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI (M), ‘flagged off the Youth March at Vasai. As the volunteers scaled the 12 KM stretch, the strong police force the administration had deployed was also forced to march along, in effect declaring solidarity to the movement. Side by side with the major demand for completion of track quadrupling work, PAAS gave indications of the next level of demand – for increasing the frequency of local train services in the sector. The ‘punch line’ of the demand was ‘One Virar Local every five minutes’. (The present scenario is that the average time gap between two consecutive services in the sector is around 10 minutes, while at least some timeslots are there wherein the gap widens to as long as 20 minutes.)
The Youth March, coupled with pressure – political as well as legal – from various quarters, succeeded in achieving a grand success by forcing the railways to speed up the work, finally completing the quadrupling by July 2007 - almost seven years after schedule. On the day the new tracks were opened for normal operation, a new rake - part of a batch of new rakes proposed to be procured for the western and central suburban lines - was also introduced into service. It was announced that 157 such new rakes will soon be procured and pressed into service. The announcement, as the administration expected, gave a huge relief to the public. However, just like numerous earlier announcements and assurances, this one also turned out to be merely an eye-wash. Not a single rake was put into service even five months after the announcement. Meanwhile, Railways did introduce a few services in the name of easing commuter difficulties. However, this also was just another ‘trick’ only. Most of these new services, except for a couple of trips in the morning and evening, were scheduled during off - peak hours of afternoons, serving no purpose other than increasing the numbers on the Railways’ statistics. Commuters’ woes continued unattended.
It is in the backdrop of this scenario that the Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti decided to take the agitation to the next stage. In October 2007, PAAS pulled out another ace from up their sleeve, announcing a call for a ‘Local Train Boycott’, asking the 30 Lakh - odd people living in the Mira Road - Virar stretch to keep away from travelling in local trains for one day. The demand at the centre stage was ‘One Virar Local every 5 minutes’ - the demand that took the second slot in their charter of demands. The day chosen was again 10th December - the International Human Rights Day. There could have been no better choice to voice the protest against the inhuman conditions that commuters are forced to be content with while travelling in the sector. It was probably the boldest move made by the PAAS in their agitation. Right from the beginning, doubts were raised regarding the feasibility of such an extreme step,
especially considering the extent of importance the local train network enjoys in the life of an average Mumbaikar. Even some of the members and volunteers of the PAAS were less than optimistic about the prospects of such a call. Many a time, there were instances of ‘rail roko’s, bandhs etc, wherein even forceful halting of movement of trains had failed to stop the public from boarding the trains. Given this scenario, it would have required more than a fair share of optimism to expect success with a call for peaceful, voluntary boycott.
However, once the call was announced, the PAAS volunteers engaged themselves in sending the message across every section of the public. Leading the propaganda from the front in Mira Road was Com. Sadiq Basha, one of the founder leaders of DYFI and PAAS in Mira Road. Ample support was at hand from other leaders, activists and supporters of DYFI and the CPI (M) from all over the Mira Road – Virar belt. Commendable services help was extended by leaders like Com. Shailendra Kamble, State Secretary of DYFI, Com. K. K. Prakashan, Com. Prabhakar Shetty, the Convenor of the PAAS, et al. In turn, support was extended by the activists in Mira Road to the operations in other areas as well.
Lakhs of leaflets and other propaganda materials were prepared and distributed across the entire belt. Corner meetings, processions etc. were conducted frequently at every nook and corner of various residential areas. In addition to the usual methods, the PAAS also adopted some new strategies as well. Since the first and foremost target was to take the call to the people, volunteers targeted where they can get to the people - at their homes. Meetings and discussions were held with office – bearers of a number of housing societies and other mass organizations. Even political parties who had till date kept away from the agitation were approached to garner support. May be somewhat surprisingly, most of these parties agreed to extend support to the movement. Support was sought from the print and audio-visual media as well. Many of the newspapers responded positively, giving write-ups, articles and news items highlighting the issue and the agitation.
Contrary to the doubts and expectations of many of the PAAS volunteers, the general response of the public towards the propaganda was on a positive note. Even though the positive response helped PAAS in building and boosting self – confidence, it was yet to be seen how much of the public response would translate into actual turn - out (or, rather, non - turn out!) in support of the boycott.
The Day of Reckoning:
After more than a month – long strenuous exercise to take the boycott call to the public came the D - Day. Monday, 10th December 2007. Stage was set to judge the skills of the volunteers of the biggest public protest call. (From here on, I am concentrating my attention to the scenario at Mira Road only, because I was stationed at the venue throughout the day.)
Unlike many other programmes / instances where the activists / volunteers used to show up late by half an hour or even more, PAAS volunteers - at least a few of them - turned up at the station as early as 5.30 AM in the morning and started preparations for the forthcoming programmes. After confirming the presence of colleagues, I reached the station by 5.45.
A stage was set up for the leaders of PAAS and other eminent personalities to address the public. Also, placards and other propaganda materials were also ready. A few minutes later, as I was watching the overall setup and preparations, a local train heading towards Churchgate came on to the platform No. 2. The compartments were fairly occupied, and a few commuters were seen standing at the doorways. It seemed that the boycott call might have taken off on a poor note.
By 6 O’ clock, more volunteers reached the station and the programme took off with a note of tribute to the thousands of lives lost over the years on the railway tracks. A few daily commuters were seen coming to the station - not the long stream that was the usual case scenario, though. A couple of volunteers approached the oncoming commuters with appeals to keep off travelling by train, and most of them readily agreed. A couple of them even declared solidarity with the agitation and joined the volunteers. While the volunteers were at work, there was one particular entity that was conspicuous by absence – the Railway Protection Force. The only law and order authority present was a small group of state police, a few of them on the platform and the rest on the road. Compare this scenario with that exactly one year back and one might smell foul-play. On 10th December 2006, when the PAAS organized the Youth March, the railway administration had deployed thousands - strong posse of RPF personnel to ‘take care of’ the participants in the March, even as there was no chance for any trouble. This year, PAAS had declared that the boycott will be a completely peaceful and voluntary affair and that the volunteers won’t be resorting to any violence. At the same time, they had also warned about the possibility of some miscreant groups attempting to undermine the agitation. Yet, the railway administration chose not to deploy any RPF as it had done last year. It seemed that the railway administration desperately wanted something untoward to happen so that they can blame it on the agitation, perform a repeat of 2005 and project PAAS in bad light so that it would lose the support of the masses. (Or was it that they were so much confident about the credibility of PAAS and believed that the assurance given by them was enough?)
Time: 6.12 AM. Another local train, a fast local for Churchgate, chugged on to the Platform. The difference couldn’t have escaped attention. Instead of the usually ‘packed’ coaches with commuters hanging on to the doorways, what came to view was a rake almost running dry of commuters. Only a few coaches were occupied, that too by very few – may be countable in digits – passengers. It was indeed a treat to the eyes of a PAAS volunteer. The moment I caught a glimpse of the sight, I knew it for sure – the boycott call HAS indeed taken off as a grand success.
Soon, we were joined by more volunteers. Even as commuters, very small in numbers, tickled down the roads towards the station, volunteers formed small groups and started appealing to the people to keep off travelling by train. Meanwhile, leaders of the PAAS as well as some eminent personalities who were residents of the area and had declared solidarity with the movement right from the beginning had started making appeals to the public through speeches. The speeches, combined with the group and individual appeals by the volunteers achieved commendable success in convincing most of the commuters either to cancel their journey or, at least, to opt for travel by road instead of boarding trains. Very few of the people – may be less than a hundredth of a percentage – who insisted on travelling were allowed to proceed, without any use of force.
As trains continued to come in and leave with near – empty coaches, the auto drivers as well as merchants near the station premises also declared support to the agitation. This had a twin effect – one, the auto drivers started appealing to the commuters, who call for autos to come to the station, to avoid travelling by train, and two, the merchants took up the job of volunteers to appeal to the commuters who approached the platform from the far end. Adding to the effect was the sight of trains running empty which prompted more and more commuters to change their plans. Adding ‘icing on the cake’, a number of commuters who had come to board the trains not only agreed to cancel their journey, but also joined hands with the volunteers. Even a couple of railway employees had joined us.
Meanwhile, the visual media – various television channels – had started airing ‘live telecast’ of the agitation from various stations. The clips that showed trains running empty and people being convinced by the volunteers’ appeals also imparted tremendous impact on the public approach towards the agitation. As time progressed, fraction of number of commuters coming to the station dropped drastically compared to the normal peak – hour figures. Even after 8.30 AM, platforms that usually would be a beehive of humanity remained almost barren, bearing a deserted look.
As reports and visuals aired by the media indicated an unprecedented, overwhelming public support in favour of the agitation, local leaders of various political parties were quick to identify the opportunity and jump on to the bandwagon. Corporators and other local political bigwigs started streaming in to the station to be part of the ‘show’ and not be left behind when lakhs of their supporters joined hands under a single banner other than their own. A bunch of leaders of the Congress dressed in their white ‘uniforms’ were in the forefront, grabbing the front – row chairs and making it a point to hog the limelight whenever television crew were in action. However, the leaders of PAAS, the organizers of the entire movement, succeeded in managing the scenario perfectly. Even as almost every leader, irrespective of his / her political colour, was given opportunity to voice support to the agitation, nobody was allowed to ‘hijack’ the programme and turn it into a political show that the leaders hoped for.
All this time, the small team of police force deployed, partly on the platform and partly on the road outside, was keeping vigil, expecting (or, rather, hoping?) something untoward might happen, undermining the entire agitation. However, as hours passed and the peak - hours of the morning passed without even a speck of trouble and the agitation proved to be an outright success, the police force also appeared rather disinterested and turned their attention away from the speeches and actions of the volunteers and resigned to the comfort of chairs on the platforms. Meanwhile, I received a call on my mobile. It was a friend from my homeland – a friend with whom I had talked a few times about the decision to stage the agitation and the preparations underway for the same. He had been in Mumbai for a couple of years and hence knew pretty well about the life as well as the mindset of the people here. Right from the beginning, he had been viewing the agitation scornfully as a ‘political stunt’ hatched by the CPI (M) and was of the opinion that the agitation would be a ‘no show’ in front of the Mumbai population. However, he was a different person today – totally transformed, ‘mesmerized’ by what he had been watching in disbelief on TV. “I must accord hearty congrats to your team. You’ve made it a reality what nobody else might ever have even dreamt of. Aaj tum log woh cheez karke dikhaya jo Mumbai mein abhi tak kisine sapne mein bhi socha nahi rahega…’ That was the greatest accolade for the agitation from my point of view.
In the meantime, reports from some other stations indicated that the some groups, mostly activists of political parties like BJP, had managed to do some amount of damage to the peaceful nature of the agitation as they resorted to force to prevent commuters from boarding the trains and trying to evict those already on board. However, the leaders and activists of the PAAS managed to intervene and ensure that such aberrations are not allowed to repeat and undermine the peaceful agenda of the agitation.
Political games of a different kind came to the fore when leaders of political parties who had absolutely no role in planning or organizing the agitation tried to hijack the ‘show’. In the forefront playing this ‘hidden agenda’ were leaders like Ram Naik (former minister and BJP leader) who had kept away from the people’s movements on the issue throughout but made a last - minute appearance once the agitation proved to be heading for an unprecedented success.
By around 2 15 PM, Taking a break of a few minutes, I walked towards a hotel nearby. There were a group of policemen there, having lunch. I knew that they were part of the police force posted at the station. As I placed my order and waited, I listened to the conversation among themselves and between them and the person manning the counter. It was then that I felt that I had made a mistake by not taking my micro cassette recorder with me, for, their words were probably the best ‘certificate’ the agitation could have got. ‘This is truly unbelievable’, commented one of them. ‘Such a small group, a handful of volunteers, managing to pull of such a huge success…’ ‘Even the biggest ‘netas’ couldn’t have even dreamt of anything like this…’ ‘Full credit to the ‘Andolan Samiti’… This is their victory. They took the right steps on the right issue…’ ‘They’re not making any problems, it seems…’ ‘Not at all… Nobody is doing anything wrong. All they’re doing is talking, and people are agreeing with them…’ ‘After all, it’s the people’s demands they’re raising, right?’ ‘Hmm… And we don’t have anything to do but simply stand there and watch…’
The scenario at the station remained almost the same in the afternoon as well. The flow of prospective commuters coming to the station had almost dried down. At any point of time, there were almost ten times as many volunteers as there were commuters. Most of the times, the area around the entrance to the station was occupied by volunteers alone who had almost nothing to do but display the placards and move around, sometimes talking to the media persons and sometimes sitting idle. In the backdrop, speeches continued, criticizing the railway administration, presenting pieces of statistics that highlighted the gravity of the issue and stressing the commuters’ demands. Among the speakers were not only the leaders of the movement but notable names from the cultural front as well, such as Shameem Abbas, Aabid Surti et al. Local leaders of political parties as well as individuals from among the public were also given opportunity to voice their views.
Hours went by without any incident. The clock ticked past the 4 O’ clock mark. It’s time for another flow of commuters, but in the opposite direction. The people who had gone for work will be starting to return in the next few hours. A clearer picture of the extent to which the boycott call had succeeded would emerge once this reverse flow is taken into consideration as those who had opted to travel by alternate methods in the morning would most probably be returning by train because there won’t be anybody to appeal to them not to board trains on the way back.
As minutes passed, trains started coming in from Borivali side carrying passengers. Unlike usual days, the number of commuters was considerably low, in tune with the low turnout in the morning. The crowd was somewhat larger than the morning inflow, but that was quite understandable. The boycott call did reflect in the low turnout. Moreover, the faces of many, if not most, of the commuters had a sort of ‘bitten by conscience’ kind of look. They might have felt that they made a mistake by attempting to undermine the agitation aimed at highlighting issues that were their own.
By the time the clock ticked past 5 PM, the complete success of the boycott was established beyond doubt. As very few people roamed about outside the station waiting for the boycott timeframe to be completed, the leaders of the PAAS had some talks among themselves and decided that an unprecedented, tremendous success having been achieved, there remained nothing to prove now. Hence, it was decided to go easy and allow some relaxation in the time limit for the agitation. Thus, by around 5.30 PM, the agitation was informally called off, even as a few people, including a former local train motorman, from among the public came forward to voice their views in support of the movement. By 5.57 PM, the last speaker had left the dais. Then came a five – minute long speech by Com. P. Chakraborty, the Secretary of the Mira - Bhayandar unit of the CPI (M), followed by the recital of the National Anthem marked the formal closing of the programme. That was it. The largest - ever mass movement in the post - independence history of India had come to a glorious end. The people of Mira Road have joined thousands of others in Suburban Mumbai in re-scripting History.
The ripples - What followed the boycott:
The boycott was so momentous an event that no media – not only the visual media who gave a ‘live coverage’ of the agitation, but the print media as well – could turn a blind eye towards it. Almost every newspaper that enjoyed a considerable following carried the rail boycott as a major front - page material. While most of the papers viewed the agitation in its true spirit and highlighted the plight of the people on their daily commute and projected the boycott and its overwhelming success as a revelation of the feelings in the minds of the people, there were a few papers - in fact, a negligible few of them, most of which could be classified under ‘tabloids’ rather than mainstream newspapers - which chose to play a different tune. Contrary to the views expressed by most media, these papers opted to go for an ‘exaggerated overkill’ and projected a couple of stray incidents wherein some people, apparently supporters of the agitation (but not among the recognized volunteers), resorted to high - handedness and prevented commuters from boarding trains and tried to force those on board to alight. These incidents that affected only a couple of trains were blown too much out of proportion and the entire agitation was projected in a bad light, as if it was being led by a pack of hoodlums. One paper even published the comments of a few ‘representatives’ of the public (most of them residing outside the affected belt and hence happily unaware of the problems) who harped on the ‘violation of rights’ of the commuters. However, the most fitting reply to this dirty game was given by the true judges - the public. The very next day, the same paper had to admit that an overwhelming 95% of the people were of the view that the agitation was the right and best choice.
The unprecedented and massive success of the boycott had its effect on the railway administration as well. They called a meeting with the leaders of PAAS on the very next day to discuss the issue. During the meeting, the administration agreed to press one more new rake into service immediately and introduce 40 more services within next couple of months, twenty of which was subsequently started within five days. However, the Andolan Samiti was not in a mood to relent and be content with what was offered. They stuck to their original demand - ‘One Virar Local every five minutes’ and have announced that they will be taking the issue up at higher levels with a meeting with Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Minister for Railways.
Looking Back - Rail Boycott in Retrospect:
Having presented a somewhat detailed account of the backdrop of the railway agitation and the grand success story of the rail boycott, I feel that it is time to have a look back and review the balance sheet of the latest phase of the agitation.
Even though a number of changes may be cited as the effect of the rail boycott agitation, the single most important outcome of the programme was a paradigm shift in the mindset of the public towards the concept of peaceful agitation for achieving their goals. Till date, the mood predominant among the general public of Mumbai towards issues of the common man had been mostly cold – hearted, or, in some rare instances, shifting towards the other extreme, resorting to outright violence. Contrary to this insensitive behaviour, the boycott call ensured that the people of Suburban Mumbai lined up voluntarily to sacrifice a day for a common cause, without any force applied. This change is by no means a mean achievement.
Further, from the point of view of the ‘Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti’, the huge success the boycott call had achieved meant a lot more. The voluntary response of the people to the boycott call was the logical culmination of the emergence and steady rise of PAAS as a widely accepted leading force in the people’s struggle towards a better tomorrow. The people have rightly identified PAAS as a reliable support that they can count on to extend a helping hand when their interests are at stake. This recognition has, in turn, added more responsibility on the shoulders of the members and volunteers of PAAS. People have started looking up to them as a formidable team capable of pulling off miracles in tackling the various burning issues they are facing in their day - to - day life. From now on, the PAAS team is not merely a group operating on a single - point agenda of alleviating the hardships of railway commuters. They have a vast arena to play on.
Another aspect that can’t be overlooked is the ‘political success’ of the DYFI (and CPI (M)), the real brain behind this agitation. Right from the beginning, it was the activists of DYFI who played all the vital roles in the railway agitation. Even though they had deliberately stepped back and projected ‘Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti’ as an apolitical mass organization, it was pretty clear from the very outset that almost entire activities of the Samiti were being carried out by none other than the leaders and activists of DYFI. Their inherently weak organizational strength notwithstanding, they dared to step out and lead the movement from the front. They took the right issue up and made all the right moves along a path that no other political party had ever dared to tread. They rightly chose the most burning issue that nobody could avoid and yet every party and every leader chose to conveniently side - step. Quite understandably, when DYFI came forward to take the issue up and subsequently proved their mettle with their no - nonsense attitude and moves, they could harness commendable public support, so much so that every other political party and group which was anything to be reckoned were left with no choice but to accord support to the movement and play second fiddle to the hand - full of leaders of DYFI and CPI (M). When a party like Shivsena that needs no introduction anywhere in Mumbai come forward willingly to support a movement initiated by DYFI and even call upon its leaders to provide guidance to their activists, it won’t require the brains of a political expert to assess and appraise the success the organization has achieved.
That much about the ‘tangible effects’ of the agitation and its success. Not to be discounted are the effects of the different kind - the mental effects. With the movement succeeding in bringing together the lakhs of people in the suburbs under one banner struggling for a common cause, it has also succeeded in leaving a spark in the minds of the lakhs who expressed solidarity with the movement. Most of the people who willed to part with a day’s wages (or leave) had no prior experiences of being part of a mass agitation. That notwithstanding this lack of experience, they showed the will - power to join hands with the agitation and the tremendous success it fetched were elemental in seeding a sense of pride and self - satisfaction in their minds. The satisfaction one derives from the feeling of having done something for the society can be worth a thousand rewards to anybody who has at least some sense of duty – consciousness – Not the duty as a worker / employee, but the larger, wider aspect of duty to the society.
Yet another aspect of the ‘intangible effect’ of the agitation and its success can be identified in the minds of ‘dormant leftists’ - the people who, despite maintaining a pro - left view, had remained dormant and inactive in the past for lack of active supporters. A number of such people had till date been hidden behind the screen, may be for fear of being sidelined in the inherently anti - left society. While the launch of the movement had sparked off the sense of belonging and an urge for agitation in those minds, the call for the boycott and its unprecedented success achieved a great victory in rekindling the flame of the pro - left stream of thought.
Winding up, I would like to reiterate one point: The railway agitation and its latest ‘avatar’, the Local Train Boycott of 10th December, have proved to be a massive and outright success – a magnificent moment in the history of Mumbai. The people of suburban Mumbai have made it loud and clear - that they are in no mood to remain mute spectators and suffer the ‘torture chambers’ running on wheels any more, and the Railway administration can no longer sit idle on the people’s demands and continue their ‘eye - wash’ games and gimmicks. It’s high time they took definitive steps for extending service to the ever - growing population. We can’t - and we WON’T - allow them to wash their hands off the blood of the thousands of young lives lost on the tracks across this city. We have the right to travel with dignity and we WILL win it, come what may - NO compromise on that.
The Day in pics - photos taken at Mira Road station
Report and photos from Vasai
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~ Viji Pinarayi ~