The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terror train tars Mumbai tracks

Mumbai, Jan. 31: Terror on tracks spread from Mathura to Mumbai, with three women returning from work — one of them pregnant — splashed with acid, a man going to work thrown off a train and another man battered as he set foot in the city.

Twenty-five-year-old Shirley Thomas, who is six months’ pregnant, is in hospital fighting 35 per cent burns. Sunita Prasanna and Manasi Shringarpure, her colleagues at ICICI Bank who were on the train that left Churchgate at 9.40 pm yesterday and were hit by the plastic bag containing acid, have been discharged after treatment.

Aeronautical engineer Jaspal Singh, thrown off a train bound for Churchgate, is in another hospital with multiple injuries on his arms and legs and 22 stitches on his head. The 34-year-old, who works at the Juhu aerodrome, had taken the 9.29 am train from Borivli, a western suburb. After a tiff over standing space, six men threw him off the train as it approached the next station, Kandivli.Other passengers stood by silently.

Amit Mhaske had just arrived in the city last evening when goons set upon him with lathis and swords and snatched his belongings at the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Kurla. He went to the Government Railway Police and then to three police stations to register a complaint, but was turned away each time.

The violence, which came on the day railway minister Nitish Kumar unveiled a flurry of sops in a pre-election interim budget, shook the city’s faith in its lifeline. “The Prime Minister’s grand-nephew gets killed in an Uttar Pradesh train and women are routinely molested in Bihar. Mumbai, too, doesn’t look safe anymore. We could trade all facilities for safety,’’ said Achala Trivedi, a banker who knows Shirley.

“Nitish Kumar has to be told we don’t feel safe in our trains.”

The railway minister possibly knows that already. Among the sops he doled out yesterday was a promise that marshals would man trains from July. The announcement came after A.B. Vajpayee’s grand-nephew Manish Mishra was thrown off a train near Mathura last Saturday.

But Mumbai is not Mathura. The last train that leaves Churchgate Terminus at 1.30 am usually carries bar girls returning home from work. They don’t huddle together in corners because there is hardly ever any harassment that women in other cities, like Delhi or Patna, encounter. The almost 70 lakh passengers that travel by Mumbai’s local trains usually feel safe.

But yesterday’s attacks have raised loud demands for more security along the tracks, considered one of the safest in the country. “Passengers have voiced fears that were till now considered non-existent,’’ railway police commissioner Srikant Savarkar said.

Police are searching for the men who lobbed the acid-filled bag on the Malad-bound train outside Bandra, injuring Shirley, her colleagues and Faizullah Rehmatullah, who was in the same compartment. The others suffered 20 to 30 per cent burns, mostly on their faces and arms.

Sources said the attackers could have been after a woman seen in animated conversation with a youth at Bandra station. “Only the girl actually targeted can provide us the information we need,’’ Savarkar said.

He feels it is unfair to compare the Mumbai tracks with Bihar. “We will examine the situation and find a solution,’’ he said. “Our security apparatus is in place and it works.’’

But Achala is not convinced. “Wasn’t it last year when a 14-year-old girl was raped in a running train as passengers looked on'’’ she asked. “Safety in Mumbai trains is becoming an urban myth.”

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