It’s around 6 pm at Churchgate station. Women – and men – commuters swarm the platforms, waiting to board trains towards Virar. Amid the noise, a woman commuter shouts, “Ladies Special gai toh nahi na? (Has the Ladies Special train left?)”
For around 15 lakh women commuters who travel regularly on the Western Railway (WR), the Ladies Special has come as a blessing. The train, whose all coaches are dedicated to women, was started in 1992 between Churchgate and Virar.
Recalling those days, Mrinmayee Ranade, who used to travel regularly on WR then, said, “The service was so liked by women, some would grumble why their office timings weren’t aligned with the train’s timings. On the other hand, men would envy this special privilege for women commuters.”
The Ladies Special soon became a necessity more than a service. Explaining how important it was for women those days, Ranade said, “The nineties saw immense industrial growth towards the southern side of Mumbai and a simultaneous increase in the number of working women. With the Ladies Special, women commuters no longer had to struggle to locate the coach reserved for them during peak hours. Plus, they could travel comfortably.”
In fact, the Ladies Special was started to allow women travel without any fear of harassment. “Dedicating an entire train to them meant women could travel comfortably and, most importantly, without men entering their compartment. This was the primary aim of the service,” said a senior official.
Running successfully for 24 years on one of the busiest suburban lines, WR operates eight Ladies Special services in a day, divided equally during the morning and evening peak hours between the Up and Down lines. “I take the Ladies Special from Elphinstone Road at 7.10 pm after office hours. This helps me to not only get a seat but also escape the crowd rush at Dadar,” said Shakti Pradhan.
But for Shubha Munvekar, commuter rush remains unmanageable. A regular traveller on the Ladies Special, she said, “I always get a seat as I travel from Grant Road station in the evening. But for terminals like Dadar, Andheri and others, the crowd rush remains the same. It is indeed helpful for those who stay farther in places like Santacruz or Kandivali.”
When it was introduced, the name ‘Ladies Special’ became instantly popular, so much so that a popular Tamil publication was named after it. A serial and a documentary too were made with the same name.
Considering its popularity, the Central Railway too started such a service on its suburban line. And there’s a growing opinion that there should be a service dedicated entirely to men. However, some tend to keep a different opinion. “Why not also have a full train dedicated for the men too?” said Netra Mestry, a commuter, said.