What’s Urban Transport Planning Got to Do with Train Vendors?

Studying the labour-lives of women vendors on Mumbai’s local trains can have far-reaching consequences for urban transport planning.

A couple of years ago I found myself going to Dadar station in Mumbai at 8 am every morning waiting for a research informant to alight from the middle ladies’ compartment of the local train. While I never managed to meet her, I ended up discovering and introducing myself to a train vendor known to many as Savita maushi, who is an institution unto herself. She is a 60-something, short, and dynamic Gujarati woman selling kurtas, scarves, and sarees to hundreds of women setting off to work on the train in the morning rush hour. She led me into a world of everyday fashion, fast-sales, and family business networks that stretches across different train routes and into markets surrounding the local train network in Mumbai. There began my feminist anthropological investigations of the lifeworld of businesses run by women on the 70-odd km suburban train routes running along the western coastline of Mumbai.

In my ongoing work, I have spent time shadowing women selling scarves, kurtas, artificial gold jewellery, hair accessories, and freshly cooked breakfast. Unlike many classic cultural anthropo­logists, those of the lore of Bronislaw Manilowski and M N Srinivas, I have chosen not to live in the same neighbourhoods or communities as my research participants. I spend my time in spaces where women work, trade, and set up businesses, rather than their households.

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Updated On : 19th Apr, 2020

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