A field trip to Nepal ended in a nightmare even before it began for 43 girls from the SNDT College in Matunga on Thursday, some of whom had to jump out of the safety window of an outstation train to escape the crowd.
The students, between 18 and 19 years of age, had reserved seats in sleeper-class compartments on the Gorakhpur Express and boarded the train from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus.
However, as is often the case on this route, the train was jam-packed, the girls’ seats occupied and the compartment full of unauthorised travellers heading to their villages after Chhat Puja.
Every year, the Railway organises special trains to Uttar Pradesh at this time of the year to accommodate the crowds.
As the seats were in different compartments, the students got separated from each other and panicked when they saw that the crowd was unruly and aggressive and the compartments so crammed there was barely space to stand.
“We found the compartment occupied by unauthorised people. My daughter and her friends entered, but their seats were occupied. They were not even allowed to come out of the train. We had to pull them out from the safety window,” said Jaya Pasad.
“It was horrible. One of the men snatched my watch. They were pushing us. There were some other girls who wanted to get off the train, but they could not,” said a student who got off at LTT.
Parents managed to pull out only two girls when the train left the terminus at 11.10 am.
They then went to the Railway Protection Force, which got the train to make an unscheduled halt at Kasara, where the RPF personnel rescued 10 girls.
“After the control room got the message to rescue girls from the S2 and S3 compartments, the train was stopped at Kasara and the RPF personnel got these girls out,” an RPF official said, requesting anonymity.
However, many girls are in other compartments as well. After 1 pm, the train made a scheduled halt at Igatpuri, where two more girls got down.
Now, 29 college students are in the train and currently unreachable on their mobile phones as train may be passing through areas without good network.
The college has collected Rs 8,000 from each student for the trip, and parents said they had been assured that the girls would be travelling in the same compartment. The parents blame the college for poor planning and for sending just three teachers with the group.
Shilpa Charankar, principal of the college, tried to play down the incident. “Some people got into the train so a few students got off with their parents; the rest have gone ahead to Nepal as scheduled,” she said. “There was no issue at all.” Of the group of 43 students, only five got off, she claimed.