WHILE railway officials and passengers unanimously welcomed the concept of an all-women crew for a suburban railway station when it was inaugurated at Matunga earlier this month, a series of practical problems and complaints from women employees posted at the station have somewhat dulled the sheen on Central Railway’s unique idea for women empowerment.
The pilot project of an all-women crew, initiated on June 5, involved posting a 30-strong team at the station, comprising 14 booking clerks, two RPF personnel, four pointspersons, seven ticket checkers, two announcers and a station manager, all women. Three weeks later, the practical challenges have begun to emerge.
“I live in Titwala and before being transferred here, I worked at Shahad station. I was posted to Matunga without being asked,” said one announcer at the station, adding that she suffers from a vision problem and can only see with one eye. “Travelling so far late in the night is very difficult for me,” she added.
While almost all of the 30 women candidly expressed their grievances, they chose to remain anonymous, fearing an adverse reaction from superiors for complaining about the initiative. While some of the women are unhappy about having been transferred without being asked, others cite the late-night shifts, the unsuitable environment around the station and safety issues.
“Our night duty begins at 11 pm and ends at 8 am. This is the time when there are drug-addicts and alcoholics loitering in and around the railway station,” said one woman RPF personnel. She added that Matunga station is in close proximity to slum pockets and unsavoury elements roam freely around the area. “We are apprehensive about stepping on to the tracks to perform our duty in case an emergency chain is pulled or if there is an accident, because we are petrified of the dangers in the dark,” she added. In one incident, when a passenger had to be rushed to hospital, four male passengers had to be requested to help lift the stretcher.
A ticket-booking clerk said she has experienced misbehavior and eve-teasing incidents at the booking windows. “Vulgar men hover around the counters, staring lewdly,” she said. “As word spreads that there are only women at this station, the number of such men will increase.”
There are infrastructural problems too. “The toilet is outside, near the tracks, and there is no space for workers to take shelter at night after the trains stop,” said the ticket checker.
Station manager Mamta Kulkarni said Central Railway is working on building an indoor toilet, expected to be ready in a month’s time.
Following requests from the RPF women, two male constables have been appointed at the Matunga station at night, for improved security.
Despite the hindrances, Kulkarni said she is committed to run the station efficiently and hopes to counsel her team regularly in order to keep them motivated.
Asked about the women’s problems, senior Public Relations Officer A K Jain said the initiative had been taken for women empowerment, at the behest of General Manager D K Sharma. “I have personally visited the station to ask the staff about their issues. As a start, we have deployed two male constables to guard the staff for security and are working towards building a toilet inside the station. We will address more of their concerns in the near future. As this is a novel initiative towards women empowerment by the railways, it must be encouraged,” said Ravinder Goyal, Divisional Railway Manager, CR.