For millions, traveling inside unreserved general compartments in Indian trains is an inescapable Indian experience. A rapidly escalating inflation has resulted in severe hikes in fuel prices in India, compelling an increasing number of people to travel in unreserved general compartments of the Indian Railways.
People traveling for long distances in these compartments have to face unbearable conditions. There are provisions for only 72 people to sit. There is no provision for sleeping. At times, more than 500 people are forced to travel on these carriages. The infrastructure on these compartments has seen no change since the British Era, unlike the other compartments like 3 Tier AC, 2 Tier AC, Sleeper and 1st Class AC. At night, the sleeping passengers resemble heaps of dead bodies in a war-zone.
My work till date has concentrated on Eastern India. I plan to document train journeys on unreserved compartments across the country. New economic polices of the Government have left the Railways as the sole affordable public segment in the transport sector. The railways have started facing an unprecedented pressure after recent repeated fuel price hikes. Recently, the railway minister has been forced to resign following massive public protests. An already existing problem will be exacerbated. This project mirrors the apathy that India has historically had for the dispossessed.
I started traveling in these compartments when I used to return home from my College which was 12 hours away by train, as I could not afford to buy a reserved ticket. I ended up frequenting these compartments twice or thrice a month. Having been a part of this space for more than 4 years now, I have documented this experience and photographed the journey with my fellow travellers.
I plan to do a nationwide traveling exhibition in trains with poster prints of my work inside the air-conditioned and other reserved compartments of Indian Railways so that people can see the space in which other poeple travel inside the unreserved general compartments. I would like to take this project in the bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata where I will rent spaces to put up these prints. I will also try to engage with public spaces so that it will be visible to a larger audience including the policy makers.
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