Many Mumbaikars could justifiably characterise their daily commute on the city's overloaded trains as killing. But for Manikant Singh, that figurative description turned frighteningly real on Thursday evening.
The 34-year-old hawker from Ulhasnagar was beaten to death by two drunk customs clearing agents after the three men got into a fight over who had the right to stand near the compartment door, an airy spot much sought after — and fought over — by commuters.
The police have arrested the two customs agents — Meena Nath Jadhav, 28, of Ghatkopar and Kiran Kadam, 23, of Dombivli. They started the fight between Byculla and Dadar stations on the Central Railway's suburban network, the police said. Singh fell unconscious as the train approached Dadar. A passenger then pulled the chain and called the home guard on duty. The guard rushed Singh to Sion Hospital, but he died on the way, the police said.
"Jadhav and Kadam boarded the Titwala-bound train from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus at 11.10 pm in an inebriated condition," said senior police inspector Shashank Shinde. "They work at the Masjid Bunder as customs clearing agents, and were awarded licences on Thursday.
They had a few drinks to celebrate that. The altercation started over the right to stand near the door of the compartment after the train had crossed Byculla."
Experts said the incident was another example of "commuting rage" erupting in a city where the average commuting time is 3.45 hours, according to a World Bank study released last year.
"People huddle like animals in train compartments," said RN Sharma, head of the urban studies department at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. "Users of public transport have neither dignity nor any space for themselves. Frustration is very high."
Every day, some six million people use the Central and Western Railway networks, each of which carries more than three million people on average on weekdays. These networks are part of a transport infrastructure that has not been augmented for three decades, Sharma said.