Mumbai’s (India) suburban rail system has the world’s most densely crowded trains (Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Ltd, 2013) and risks to passengers’ safety and security are high. While a number of papers and reports analyse threats to passenger security from a government or policy perspective, there is a dearth of literature about the impact of hostile intent on the individuals who form the crowd. Using data from a larger project on passenger perceptions of crowdedness in high-density rail situations, this article examines passenger perceptions of risk and security in Mumbai. These include the socio-criminal risks of pickpocketing and molestation, the design-associated risk of falling from the moving train, and the wider politically motivated risk of terrorism. In particular, we consider the physical and psychological methods that passengers employ to mitigate these risks. This provides an unprecedented understanding of how risk is incorporated in everyday behaviour on trains.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
SEC is determined by the education level of the household’s primary income earner and the number of durables owned (for example; colour television, LPG stove, air conditioner). These data are inserted into a socio-economic classification (SEC) grid to determine a person’s socio-economic level. For more information, see The Market Research Society of India & Media Research Users Council (2011) The New SEC System: Slideshare.net [www.slideshare.net/reachformore/new-socio-economic-classification-2011-mrsi#btnNext].
Acharya, A. and Marwah, S. (2010) Nizam, la Tanzim (system, not organization): Do organizations matter in terrorism today? A study of the november 2008 Mumbai attacks. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34 (1): 1–16.
Adler, P. and Adler, P. (2008) Of rhetoric and representation: The four faces of ethnography. The Sociological Quarterly 49 (1): 1–30.
Agarwal, S., Mullick, A. and Ray, G.G. (2013) An observational study on usability issues in Mumbai local trains. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 57th Annual Meeting, San Diego, September 30 – October 4, pp. 531–535.
Ambe, S. (2014) Study of crowding and coping in ladies compartment in Mumbai local: An environmental psychology perspective. Tekton: A Journal of Architecture, Urban Design and Planning 1 (1): 48–59.
Aradau, C. (2015) Crowded places are everywhere we go: Crowds, emergency, politics. Theory, Culture and Society 32 (2): 155–175.
Asthana, C.N. and Nirmal, A. (2009) Urban Terrorism: Myths and Realities. Jaipur, India: Pointer Publishers.
Balasinorwala, V.P. and Shah, N. (2009) Acute stress disorder in victims after terror attacks in Mumbai, India. The British Journal of Psychiatry 195 (5): 461–463.
Banerji, R. (2008) Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies. Haryana, India: Penguin Books India.
Basu, D. and Hunt, J.D. (2012) Valuing of attributes influencing the attractiveness of suburban train service in Mumbai city: A stated preference approach. Transportation Research Part A 46 (9): 1465–1476.
Bhagat, R. and Jones, G. (2013) Population Change and Migration in Mumbai Metropolitan Region: Implications for Planning and Governance. National University of Singapore, Singapore: Asia Research Institute.
Bhattacharya, S. (2012) In the name of mera shahar the spectre of terror in the Mumbai ‘disaster-scape’. Journal of Creative Communications 7 (1–2): 53–66.
Bhattacharya, S.B. (2013) Of democracies, wars and responses to war: A comparative perspective on war and security in India and the United States. India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs 69 (3): 211–227.
Bishop, R. and Roy, R. (2009) Mumbai: City-as-target: Introduction. Theory, Culture and Society 26 (7–8): 263–277.
Biswas, M. (2011) Exploring the relationship between terror threat perceptions and coping strategies: A post-26/11 assessment. South Asian Journal of Management 18 (4): 90–120.
Bosch, X. (2012) Beyond 9/11: Health consequences of the terror attacks outside the USA. Internal and Emergency Medicine 7 (2): 159–161.
Branton, R. (1993) Train drivers’ attentional states and the design of driving cabins. In: D. Oborne, R. Branton, F. Leal, P. Shipley and T. Stewart (eds.) Person-Centred Ergonomics: A Brantonian View of Human Factors. London: Taylor and Francis, pp. 97–110.
Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology 3 (2): 77–101.
Carter, M. (2005) Gender differences in experience with fear of crime in relation to public transport. Research on Women’s Issues in Transportation 35. Washington DC: Transportation Research Board, vol. 2, p. 100.
Cartledge, J. (2003) Overcrowding on the Railways, a Health and Safety Issue? Birmingham, UK: Railway Industry Advisory Committee.
Chaudhuri, T. (2012) Making sense of loss: Situating the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 in the context of altruistic suicide homicide. Journal of Arts and Humanities 1 (3): 99–106.
Chow, W.K. (2002) Ventilation of enclosed train compartments in Hong Kong. Applied Energy 71 (3): 161–170.
Coaffee, J. (2009) Protecting the urban: The dangers of planning for terrorism. Theory, Culture and Society 26 (7–8): 343–355.
Cole, J., Walters, M. and Lynch, M. (2011) Part of the solution, not the problem: The crowd’s role in emergency response. Contemporary Social Science 6 (3): 361–375.
Cox, T., Houdmont, J. and Griffiths, A. (2006) Rail passenger crowding, stress, health and safety in Britain. Transportation Research Part A 40 (3): 244–258.
Dewey, S. (2009) Dear Dr. Kothari…: Sexuality, violence against women, and the parallel public sphere in India. American Ethnologist 36 (1): 124–139.
Dhillon, M. and Bakaya, S. (2014) Street harassment: A qualitative study of the experiences of young women in Delhi. SAGE Open 4 (3): doi: 10.1177/2158244014543786.
Dreze, J. and Sen, A. (2013) The grip of inequality. In: S. Hurst (ed.) An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions. London: Penguin Group, Penguin Books Ltd.
Eachus, P., Stedmon, A. and Baillie, L. (2013) Hostile intent in public crowded spaces: A field study. Applied Ergonomics 44 (5): 703–709.
Elias, W., Albert, G. and Shiftan, Y. (2013) Travel behaviour in the face of surface transportation terror threats. Transport Policy 28: 114–122.
Eroglu, S.A., Machleit, K. and Barr, T.F. (2005) Perceived retail crowding and shopping satisfaction: The role of shopping values. Journal of Business Research 58 (8): 1146–1153.
Fredrickson, B., Tugade, L., Michele, M., Waugh, C.E. and Larkin, G.R. (2003) What good are positive emotions in crisis? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84 (2): 365–376.
Ganesh (2011) Spectre of death derails Mumbai’s lifeline, The New Indian Express,www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/article236180.ece, accessed 3 October 2014.
Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Gearson, J. (2002) The nature of modern terrorism. The Political Quarterly 73 (s1): 7–24.
Gidron, Y., Gal, R. and Zahavi, S.A. (1999) Bus commuters’ coping strategies and anxiety from terrorism: An example of the Israeli experience. Journal of Traumatic Stress 12 (1): 185–192.
Gigerenzer, G. (2006) Out of the frying pan into the fire: Behavioural reactions to terrorist attacks. Risk Analysis 26 (2): 347–351.
Goffman, E. (1963) Behaviour in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings. New York: Free Press.
Green, J. et al (2007) Generating best evidence from qualitative research: The role of data analysis. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 21 (6): 545–550.
Gupta, P. (2012) Sr citizen crushed to death between train, platform. Sunday Times of India 21 January, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Sr-citizen-crushed-to-death-between-train-platform/articleshow/11585096.cms?, accessed 16 July 2015.
Hedges, K. (2010) Indian women slapping men who ride on women-only carriages. Digital Journal report 29 October, www.digitaljournal.com, accessed 16 June 2015.
Himabindu, B.L., Arora, R. and Prashanth, N.S. (2013) Whose problem is it anyway? Crimes against women in India. Global Health Action 7(10) published online 21 July 2014. doi: 10.3402/gha.v7.23718.
Hindustan Times Correspondent. (2012) Man falls off train rooftop, dies. Hindustan Times Mumbai.
Hirsch, L. and Thompson, K. (2011) The carriage as an emotional landscape: How do passengers experience fear? Understanding fear in the Australian metropolitan railway industry. Paper presented at the AusRAIL PLUS, 22–24 November, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Hirsch, L., Thompson, K. and Every, D. (2014) From computer to commuter: Considerations for the use of social networking sites for participant recruitment. The Qualitative Report 19 (5): 1–13.
Hutchison, E. (2010) Trauma and the politics of emotions: Constituting identity, security and community after the Bali bombing. International Relations 24 (1): 65–86.
Jenkins, B.M. (2007) The Terrorist Threat to Surface Transportation. Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose, CA: National Transportation Security Center.
Joshi, S. (2014) 63% rise in molestation cases on Mumbai local trains. Hindustan Times Mumbai.
Joshi, V. and Kale, V. (2013) Environmental conflicts in coastal metropolitan cities in India: Case studies of Mumbai and Chennai metropolitan regions, India, SECOA FP7, Research Project 4.1.
Justino, P. (2007) Social security in developing countries: Myth or necessity? Evidence from India. Journal of International Development 19 (3): 367–382.
Kamath, D. (2014) Lifeline or death line: Rack crossing accounts for 52% of train mishap deaths. DNA Analysis, http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-lifeline-or-death-line-rack-crossing-accounts-for-52-of-train-mishap-deaths-1966339, accessed 3 October 2014.
Kellermann, A.L. (2013) Lessons from Boston. New England Journal of Medicine 368 (21): 1956–1957.
Kusters, A. (2009) Deaf on the lifeline of Mumbai. Sign Language Studies 10 (1): 36–68.
Miguel-Tobal, J.J. et al (2006) PTSD and depression after the Madrid March 11 train bombings. Journal of Traumatic Stress 19 (1): 69–80.
Ministry of External Affairs. (2012) Crime in India – 2012. National Crime Records Bureau, New Delhi: Government of India.
Mrena, R., Pääkkönen, R., Bäck, L., Pirvola, U. and Ylikoski, J. (2004) Otologic consequences of blast exposure: A finnish case study of a shopping mall bomb explosion. Acta oto-laryngologica 124 (8): 946–952.
Mumbai Mirror Bureau. (2012) Teenaged rooftop traveller dies after 1 500KV shock, Mumbai Mirror Mumbai: Times of India.
Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Ltd. (2013) Annual Report 2012–2013. Mumbai, India: Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation.
Mythen, G. and Walklate, S. (2006) Communicating the terrorist risk: Harnessing a culture of fear? Crime, Media, Culture 2 (2): 123–142.
Nallathiga, R. (2006) Envisioning a comprehensive transport strategy for Mumbai. Journal of Transport Management 30 (2): 153–177.
Newton, A.D., Partridge, H. and Gill, A. (2013) In and around: Identifying predictors of theft within and near to major mass underground transit systems. Security Journal 27 (2): 132–146.
Okumura, T. et al (1998) The Tokyo subway sarin attack. Disaster management, Part 1: Community emergency response. Academic Emergency Medicine 5 (6): 613–617.
Pennebaker, J.W. and Harber, K.D. (1993) A social stage model of collective coping: The Loma Prieta earthquake and the Persian gulf war. Journal of Social Issues 49 (4): 125–145.
Prager, F., Asay, B., Ryan, G., Lee, B. and von Winterfeldt, D. (2011) Exploring reductions in London underground passenger journeys following the july 2005 bombings. Risk Analysis 31 (5): 773–786.
Pucher, J., Korattyswaropam, N., Mittal, N. and Ittyerah, N. (2005) Urban transport crisis in India. Transport Policy 12 (3): 185.
Rai, S. and Sengupta, S. (2006) Series of bombs explode on 7 trains in India, killing scores, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/12/world/asia/12india.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, accessed 15 July 2015.
Rotter, J. (1966) Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied 80 (1): 1–28.
Rubin, J.G., Brewin, C.R., Greenberg, N., Hughes, J.H., Simpson, J. and Wessely, S. (2007) Enduring consequences of terrorism: 7-month follow-up survey of reactions to the bombings in London on 7 July 2005. The British Journal of Psychiatry 190 (4): 350–356.
Sadler, G., Lee, H.-C., Lim, R. and Fullerton, J. (2010) Recruitment of hard-to-reach population subgroups via adaptions of the snowball sampling strategy. Nursing and Health Sciences 12 (3): 369–374.
Sehgal, P.C. and Surayya, T. (2011) Innovative strategic management: The case of Mumbai suburban railway system. Vikalpa 36 (1): 61–72.
South, S., Trent, K. and Bose, S. (2014) Skewed sex ratios and criminal victimization in India. Demography 51 (3): 1019–1040.
Stedmon, A.W., Harris, S., Carse, A., Sharples, S. and Wilson, J.R. (2008) Tracking a suspicious person using CCTV: But what do we mean by suspicious behaviour? In: P. Bust (ed.) Contemporary Ergonomics 2008. London: Taylor and Francis, pp. 139–144.
Stein, B.D. et al (2004) A national longitudinal study of the psychological consequences of the september 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: Reactions, impairment, and help-seeking. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes 67 (2): 105–117.
Taber, N. (2010) Institutional ethnography, autoethnography, and narrative: An argument for incorporating multiple methodologies. Qualitative Research 10 (1): 5–25.
Tharoor, S. (2007) The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone. Reflections on India, the Emerging 21st-Century Power. New York: Arcade Publishing.
The Market Research Society of India and Media Research Users Council. (2011) The new SEC system: Slideshare.net, http://www.slideshare.net/reachformore/new-socio-economic-classification-2011-mrsi#btnNext, accessed 15 July 2015.
Thompson, K. (2013) Qualitative research rules: Using qualitative and ethnographic methods to access the human dimensions of technology. In: C. Bearman, J. Rose, A. Naweed and J. Dorrian (eds.) A Practical Guide to Evaluating the Human Factors Issues of New Rail Technologies. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Tiwari, P. and Kawakami, T. (2001) Modes of commuting in Mumbai: A discrete choice analysis. Review of Urban and Regional Development Studies 13 (1): 34–45.
Wekerle, G. and Whitzman, C. (1995) Safe Cities: Guidelines for Planning, Design and Management. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Wilbur Smith Associates. (2013) Executive Summary: Mumbai Suburban Rail Passenger Surveys and Analysis. Mumbai, India: Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation Ltd.
About this article
Cite this article
Hirsch, L., Thompson, K., Blewett, V. et al. Death on the lifeline: The perceptions of Mumbai’s commuters to high-density-related risk. Secur J 29, 72–86 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/sj.2015.45