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This article analyses how intersectionality and mobility shape each other in the case of deaf women who board the Mumbai suburban trains, which have separate compartments reserved for women and for people with disabilities. These compartments being adjacent, deaf women often make last-minute decisions where to board, and even happen to switch compartments at a further station. Here, intersectionality shapes mobility in that it entails a complex and changeable, context-dependent set of strategies and decisions. Mobility shapes intersectionality in that by being mobile, people assert or develop different aspects of their lived experiences, preferences and aspirations.
This article considers dense social interactions in commuter trains and their crucial role within city-wide networks. Literature on social interactions in public transport has focused on how commuters have short interactions with each other, or constitute groups of train friends, but without situating them in wider geographies. The article focuses on deaf people in the Mumbai metropolis who travel in compartments reserved for disabled people, chatting and exchanging news and information. These spatial practices are facilitated by the peninsular geography and train infrastructure of Mumbai. In order to produce deaf spaces, where deaf sociality and sign language use are the organizing principles, deaf people strategically board particular trains and particular compartments, and sometimes remain in the train beyond their original destination. Mobile phones are used to coordinate these meetings. The diversity of people meeting in the train is high, such as with regard to gender, age, religion, caste, class and divisions are either perpetuated or abated. Because these compartments provide a diverse range of deaf people a space for daily meetings on the way to and from their (mostly hearing) work places and families; they are very important spaces to maintain and expand networks in the wider Mumbai deaf community.
This article is a result of my MSc Deaf Studies dissertation that is situated on an intersection between Deaf geography, anthropology and Deafhood theory. During five weeks of participatory observation and interviews in Mumbai, my attention was drawn to the city's lifeline: the suburban train system. It appeared that Deaf people tend to travel in specific compartments for people with disabilities that were set up about eight years ago. They started to use these compartments—and also the train platforms—as important meeting places. The article explains how this evolved and the reasons for traveling in compartments for disabled people rather than in general train compartments—reasons that have nothing to do with a "deficit" perspective on deafness. Not only has this way of traveling several sociocultural consequences that appear to strengthen links in the Mumbai Deaf community; in addition the visibility of signing Deaf groups has caused a growth in Deaf awareness among hearing people in these "disabled" compartments in particular and at the train stations in general. It is because of Mumbai's geography, its resulting population density and the heavy use of suburban trains unique for this city, that these several different effects were so strongly spread in both the Deaf community and among hearing people.
This article o ers a detailed ethnographic account of how people appropriate available space in compartments for disabled people in the Mumbai suburban trains, make it their own and monitor it, in the context of a succession of recent spatial changes. These compartments have increased in size over the years, and subsequently, the body of travellers has become more diverse. Passengers produce hierarchies based on need, physical di erences, age di erences and physical appearance, determining who can enter the compartments and who can’t, who can sit and who should stand, and where they should sit/stand. These hierarchies are mediated, but not dominated, by medical and disability certi cates which are, in addition to a valid ticket, the documents that entitle people to travel in the handicapped compartments. Hierarchies are in uenced by sexism, classism and audism and partially overlap but also are competing, such as in the case of deaf people who argue for the right to occupy seats and at the same time struggle with how to balance this quest with the need to act morally towards fellow travellers who seemingly suffer.