Railway daredevils: Mumbai local train stunts

Zahid Ansari train stunt survivor and counsellor

This is a recurring theme. While hundreds of people have accidents performing stunts on railways, once in a while, it happens while a video is being shot and goes viral. The usual reactions abound. Shock, criticism, demands that the police curb the menace…

There are no clear answer. Closed door trains will not be acceptable to passengers in Mumbai’s sweltering weather. Also, the number of people using Mumbai’s trains in spite of their high frequency and large capacity are mind boggling. An estimated 3500 people get on and off trains at each station within a minute and some time while it slows down and takes up speed again. Not only would those seconds of slowing down and picking up speed become unusable for boarding and alighting, there would be additional seconds wasted while doors open and close. It remains to be seen if doors would close at peak hours so that the train could move. And then again, there is no guarantee that stunt performers wouldn’t perform stunts outside the doors on closed door trains.

These trains arrive at a frequency of one every two minutes.

Those are people in the door because there is no space inside. As someone who has spent 2 hours trying to catch a Virar local in the evening, the crowd is a very real thing and closing doors is going to raise questions of ventilation apart from other factors like how to accommodate the quantity of commuters who already lack space in peak hours.

On the other hand, appeals to youth have gone in vain. Warnings and fines have deterred some perhaps, but there are many more eager to take their place.


Make no mistake, there is tremendous skill and agility and strength on display here. It is difficult to deny that there is exhilaration in feeling a rush of speed and risk and the power of wind buffeting your body. You can see it on their faces. Is it not that same rush that leads people to jump from skies and put jet engines on cars? And where there are daredevils, there are accidents. It is a spirit that thrives on challenge that seeks greater feats to pit self against.

However, there is a downside. While the mountains or skies or race tracks or even the very urban dahi handis are accepted and known zones of adventure with little or no risk to bystanders, the same cannot be said of crowded public spaces like trains or roads. There is also an element of breaking social norms in this, and unsurprisingly, both bike gangs and railway stunts have also been associated with harm to others ranging from chain snatchings and sexual harassment of young women to accidental deaths, with little concern by the adventurers as a whole.

One thing is clear. Where there is potential for adventure, adventurers spring up. If Everest can be climbed because it is there, there will be young men speeding bikes because the roads are there, and daredevils livening up long commutes with their dose of adrenaline. Performing feats that others cannot do seems to be hardwired into the human mind as a rite of passage into recognition or leadership. Whether it is remote tribes getting tattoos on coming of age, or young men leaning out of trains.

So the problem is somewhat a trait that emerges among a certain gender more than the other, at a certain age, more than the other and in certain circumstances more than the other.

A few common factors come to mind. Most of the stunt performers are invariably male, between adolscence to early adulthood (hormonal changes?) and an element of boredom with existing circumstances.

It results in accidents like these on Mumbai’s local trains.

And worse, which I am not going to put up here. You can guess. Human body, massive train, fast speed, and random obstacles at varying distances.

It makes one wonder where the answers are. Most of these daredevils are from lower income groups. They do not have access to other adventures. It is going to be very difficult to prevent access to what they can access.

The police arrest the stunt performers when they can, call their parents and show videos of stunt accidents to drive the point home. But one wonders if there are other ways. If schools and colleges can do more to caution their students. If passengers can be motivated to report stunt performers so that more and more of them can be caught for the police lecture and cautionary videos.

A thought that occurs to me is an alarm button in each compartment that passengers can press when there are stunt performers in their compartment doors. Possibly buttons on each side for which side the performers are, so that the police can nab them at the next station. Then again, this may not always be practical given the crowds.

Another idea is something that has been discussed for social change work among youth to combat sexual harassment and petty crimes on the streets – community activities that bring a sense of achievement and provide mature role models to bond with. Football, drama, social activism…

And then there are those like 13 year old Zahid Ansari. Zahid Ansari tried to copy stunts he saw in a video and ended up falling on the tracks when his head hit a pole. With his face severely injured and suffering from concussion, Zahid had learned a lesson many needed to learn. On recovering, he started working as a part time counsellor with the railways, speaking to student audiences and cautioning them about the perils of train stunts and the suffering caused to himself and his family. Hearing from “one of them” who speaks from experience and regret has a different impact than authority figures laying down the law and showing fearsome visuals.

Zahid Ansari train stunt survivor and counsellor
Zahid Ansari survived a train stunt gone horribly wrong when his head hit a pole and he sufered severe concussion.

What do you think? What ideas could actually work to keep the young stunt performers safe?

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