The occupation of space, hierarchy, and intersectionality in Mumbai's suburban trains 

Annelies Kusters

- completed -

Deaf people in the Mumbai metropolis travel in train compartments reserved for the disabled, where they chat and exchange news and information. These spatial practices are facilitated by the peninsular geography and train infrastructure of Mumbai. In order to produce deaf spaces where deaf sociality and sign-language use constitute the organizing principles, deaf people strategically board particular trains and compartments, and sometimes remain in the train beyond their original destination. Mobile phones are used to coordinate these meetings. The diversity of people meeting in the train is high - for example, with regard to gender, age, religion, caste, and class - and divisions are either perpetuated or abated. Because these compartments provide a diverse range of deaf people with a space for daily meetings on the way to and from their (mostly hearing) work places and families, they are very important spaces in which to maintain and expand networks in the wider Mumbai deaf community. These compartments for disabled people are also characterized by frequent encounters and interaction between deaf and non-deaf passengers. The compartments have increased in size over the years, and consequently the body of travelers has become more diverse, e.g., an increase in the numbers of women, but also of unauthorized travelers, e.g., senior citizens, transgenders, schoolchildren, and large numbers of male, able-bodied encroachers. Passengers produce hierarchies based on need, physical differences, age differences and physical appearance, determining who can enter the compartments and who cannot, who can sit and who should stand, and where they should sit or stand. 

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