India’s Train Crash Killed Mainly the Poor Packed in Cheapest Cars

Income from their furniture repair shop in Bihar was not meeting the needs of their family of eight. After Mr. Kumar’s brother Nitesh went to Chennai for work, where he could earn more, Mr. Kumar started spending time there also — for short-term gigs or to buy new tools and return to Bihar.

On June 2, Mr. Kumar reached Kolkata early in the morning on an overnight train from Bihar and waited about 10 hours in the heat until the Coromandel Express was ready to depart. The train was packed, with many passengers standing — holding their bags in one hand, clutching a cabin chain with the other for support. Some sat on the floor; the exit doors of the coach were completely blocked.

Mr. Kumar managed to get a seat by being among the first in the swarm. What saved him, he said, was a chance happening: A family of three sitting next to him asked if he would be willing to swap his seat with one being used by a female relative in the back of the car.

“When I regained consciousness, half of the compartment was hanging in the air, the other half was gone,” he said. “While crawling toward the gate, I saw a red head cover of the woman whom I had swapped the seat with. They were all lying dead.”

The daily struggles of India’s poor go largely unnoticed. For many on the Coromandel, attention fell on them only in disaster, as workers cut through the jumbled coaches to drag out the bodies, watched by cameras and crowds of onlookers.

“It doesn’t matter if we die at home or in a train accident — we are nobody,” said Madhu Sudhan Haldar, 24, one of the survivors from the general coaches, who essentially grew up on construction sites. “After a few days, everyone will forget so many people died.”

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