Elphinstone Tragedy: Between Kandivali and Parle, Nothing Changes

Indians are apathetic about safety and the government knows we’ll “adjust”. We’re running around in circles.

5 min read
Women mourn outside a morgue for relatives killed in the stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road station.

The Elphinstone Road station tragedy is testament to the chaos that the country is in. I’m writing this article a few days after the tragedy, and this will probably come as a surprise to the readers who are used to instant noodles, instant soup and instant news. We always have information at out fingertips, but here's the thing: every news report dominates conversation for maybe an hour, trends for may be a day, and sparks debates for around a week. But that is where it ends.


I am not writing about the Elphinstone Road stampede to blame anyone. That’s what everyone else seems to be doing anyway, so far at least. People in the crowd blame others in the crowd; the others in the crowd blame the government; the government blames the previous government – the baton simply goes to and fro between all those involved. Those who are not involved are flexing their revisionist muscles and voicing their opinions. So, I take a dip and attempt to do the same.

I don't send my opinion from the seat of a news anchor, or a politician. Both these seats are soft, comfortable, and are often located in air-conditioned rooms.

Instead, I speak from a seat in a second class compartment of a Churchgate-bound local train. At the moment, the compartment is cramped, to say the least. It is 1 pm. In a circle around me are dozens of men, heading to work or college. We’re stuffed into the compartment, with barely any room to spare. But we know we’re still five times better off than the passengers who took the train three hours ago – at the 10 am peak hour. We’re cosy alright, but I know that isn’t the word for it.

When I reach my destination, two dozen others like me will be pushed out of the train with the force that we all seem to collectively exert at every platform. As we do this, people waiting on the platform will try to enter the train, pushing their way in.

After the incident on 29 September, a great many people came together, proposing a unanimous solution: get the Railway Officers and VVIPs to let go of their privileges and travel in circumstances they are responsible for. However, dear privilege-bearers, I would not really wish these circumstances to be inflicted upon you. I understand how embarrassing it would be for you to stand out on a platform because of your incompetence. Not as an official, but as an individual, because here is the problem: Not one person out of the several hundreds on the train, who are hanging by a rail, and squeezing into the inches beyond the footboard (don’t ask me how), will give up their spot. It doesn’t matter if you are a VVIP, or the CM, or any dignitary for that matter.

People look on at the site of a stampede that broke out on the Elphinstone Railway Station bridge in Mumbai on Friday. 
People look on at the site of a stampede that broke out on the Elphinstone Railway Station bridge in Mumbai on Friday. 
(Photo: PTI)

Everyone has their workplace to reach to, and each one has fought hard to find a square inch in the jam-packed local. It’s about survival of the fittest, after all.

Coming back to the subject, what prompted me to write this was not the incident in itself, but another set of happenings that sort of answer why the incident transpired in the first place.

The Apathetic Government

A few days ago, a Border Security Force pilot alleged shortcomings in safety of the aircraft employed to transport VIPs and MPs. The aircraft rank low in terms of maintenance, while most pilots are trainees, the pilot alleged. Something more to think about – this year, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ helicopter crash-landed twice, in May and July.

These facts bring us to a conclusion. The government is not apathetic to citizens or citizens safety. It is apathetic to safety in general.


The Apathetic Indian

Footwear of the victims of the stampede.
Footwear of the victims of the stampede.
(Photo: Reuters)

Let me give you another version of this conclusion. We Indians are apathetic to safety.

Because after all, who cares? The world does not come to a grinding halt when 20 citizens die in a public tragedy. Except for the families of the victims that is. Otherwise, who cares? Television anchors seem to, but do they really?

A couple of hours after a tragedy that killed dozens, people were hanging out of the locals. We will continue to crowd into trains and hang off the doors. We will continue to go to work. We will continue to pay taxes and we will continue to hate the government for failing to use our tax money well. 

We’re running around in circles.

Why is it that we can’t stop “adjusting” and overcrowding our trains? Is it because the authorities who can take action have left us with no other option? But maybe the authorities do nothing about it because they know we will “adjust” and overcrowd our trains.

Who Is Responsible for This Stalemate?

Kin of the victims. 
Kin of the victims. 
(Photo: Reuters)

If our decision-makers would have been efficient and not as obstinate as they are, there would have been no such stalemate. But in the current scenario, what can we do, as tax-bearers and problem-bearers? As far as the government is concerned, their apathy for safety in general has hurled helicopters, in which party workers themselves are travelling, to the ground.

It’s like hiring someone who is a bad parent to take care of your children. You can’t blame them for arrogance when they fail to deliver. But you can blame them for ignorance and indifference.

There is none of the usual pushing and shoving as I alight at Vile Parle station. But a man falls down while disembarking from a compartment. He looks around around and shouts at a plump, middle-aged man. He assumes he’s been pushed. The plump man smiles, as if to remind him that we Indians never push anyone. It’s always someone else, someone standing behind us, who does the pushing.

(The author is a short filmmaker and Youtuber. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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