Ladies Only

On Mumbai’s local trains, a unique subculture emerged inside the second-class ladies compartments where women commuters have created a world of their own. With many of the city’s working women spending several hours of their day on the train, they spend their time reading, chopping vegetables, praying, singing songs, eating, studying, shopping for jewelry, fruits, toiletries and knick knacks from the wandering vendors and catching up on sleep. Some office-going women and students spend up to an hour and a half each way on a journey to and from their workplace, schools and universities.
The trains are such an integral part of a female commuters’ life in Mumbai that various terminologies and socio-cultural codes and mores have emerged in the ladies compartments, also knows as ladies ‘dabbas’ by the women, dabba in the Hindi language translates to ‘box’. Many office going women in Mumbai have a set of friends called the ‘train friends’ who are women they have met on the train and their friendship is usually bound by the confines of the ladies compartments, rarely seeing each other outside their train journeys together. They will coordinate train timings, share meals, celebrate birthdays and religious occasions and ‘save’ seats, which is the act of securing a seat for your train friend. While informing a train friend about which part of the compartment you are in, you will ask them to come to the ‘kitchen’ or ‘hall’ which are names given to separate sections within the ladies compartments. Due to the overcrowding, the rush for a seat is inevitable, it is normal to ask other women what their destination is so you can ‘book’ and secure their seat, if they will get off the train a few stops before you.
The ladies dabba is one of the most colorful, comfortable and safest ways to travel in the city. With trains running past midnight and policemen stationed in all ladies compartments post 9 pm, traveling alone at night has become a possibility for a lot of working women.