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Deaf Spaces on Mumbai Trains
Wed 5 April 2017, 13:30 – 15:00 BST
An IRC Research Seminar
Speaker: Dr Annelies Kusters (IRC)
When transport becomes a destination: Deaf perspectives on the occupation of space, hierarchy and intersectionality in the Mumbai suburban trains
Deaf people in the Mumbai metropolis travel in train 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 organising 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.
These compartments for disabled people are also characterized by frequent encounters and interaction between deaf people and non-deaf passengers. The compartments have increased in size over the years, and subsequently, the body of travellers has become more diverse, such as an increase of women, but also of unauthorized travelers such as senior citizens, transgenders, schoolchildren, and large numbers of male, able-bodied encroachers. Passengers produce hierarchies based on need, physical differences, age differences 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 certificates which are, in addition to a valid ticket, the documents that entitle people to travel in the handicapped compartments. Hierarchies are influenced 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.
In short, the presentation gives insight in encounters within urban networks, and in how diverse travellers negotiate and organise differences in the context of spatial boundaries.
Dr Kusters is an anthropologist who is joining the IRC in April 2017. She is the Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded project "Deaf mobilities across international borders: Visualising intersectionality and translanguaging".