WITH A strength of 90 woman Railway Protection Force (RPF) officers, the Mahila Vahini, founded in August 2015, ensures the security of woman commuters on the Western Railway (WR). Patrolling the women compartments of local trains and maintaining law and order form some of their tasks. In their eight-hour day shift, attending to woman commuters’ grievances is accorded top priority by the officers. For the convenience of commuters, Mahila Vahini took the initiative to start RPF Sakhi — through which it connects with woman commuters via WhatsApp groups.
“RPF Sakhi was started in February 2016. Woman RPF officers boarded trains and spread the word about the new initiative. It didn’t take long for commuters to respond positively,” recalled Gayatri Patel, a 35-year-old inspector and head of Mahila Vahini.
“We attend to a lot of problems on a regular basis ranging from petty issues like lost personal goods, seat-cornering, door-blocking, frivolous arguments and scuffles among passengers to more serious ones like dealing with hawkers, beggars and occasional cases of stone-pelting,” said Patel.
“I travel every day for work from Navi Mumbai to Marine Lines via a connecting train from Dadar. Sometimes it gets really crowded and that’s when people get frustrated and fight over seats. In one instance, it really got ugly and women started abusing and beating up each other,” said 35-year-old commuter Deepika Ganghawane.
According to her, there should be more trains to accommodate the ever-increasing number of woman commuters.
“The team plays a crucial role in ensuring the security of woman passengers on the line. They are the backbone of women’s security on the railways,” said Ravinder Bhaker, Chief Public Relations Officer, Western Railway.
Dearth of staff remains a concern, though. “We currently have 90 woman RPF officers but need at least 110 more,” said Patel, adding stations like Grant Road, Mumbai Central, Lower Parel and Mahalaxmi have no permanent woman RPF staff and two officers have been temporarily given the task of overseeing work at these stations.
More staff could also be deployed at key railway stations like Dadar and Andheri. “Staff shortage means increased workload on existing recruits, lack of ample rest and adequate holidays,” she added.