As the crowds thin at Churchgate station towards the end of the day and the last commuters race to catch the train back home, another set of people roll out their blankets on the station premises, ready to call it a day. These are not homeless people but uniformed men taking rest before they get into another hard day at work. “We guard the ladies compartment in the early morning trains and so we have to stay back at the station through the night. Since it is a short break from our duty, we use the time to catch up on our sleep,” said a Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel, who prefers to be known only as Kadam.
These police officers are deputed to guard the three ladies compartments of the suburban locals from 9 pm to 6 am. The GRP men, who have to board the early morning trains from 4.15 am from Churchgate, feel that spending the night at the station works best for their hours of duty.
After the last train leaves, all station gates are closed and the homeless are cleared leaving only the policemen at the station. From worn out jute bags to tarpaulin sheets, they bring out anything to lie on to protect themselves from the cold, tiled floor of the station. With no pillows, they use backpacks to support their heads. “We are government servants but we do not get the benefits other government servants get. We are not provided with any resting room to spend the night. Leave alone space to sleep, we do not have an area to change or eat food,” said Kadam.
Before retiring for the day, the policemen break bread together and share a piece of gossip or two. “It is only while sharing meals at dinner that we get time to catch up with our friends. Otherwise, we are all scattered in different parts of the city,” said a policeman while eating with his friends. While some use the short break to catch up on sleep, others spend the night listening to music or watching movies on their phones.
Even while they are sleeping, they have to be on their guard in case any untoward incident takes place. “Though we are deputed to look after public safety, if we don’t rest, how can we ensure anyone’s safety?” asks a policeman, requesting anonymity.
A senior GRP official said there is no designated resting area for GRP officials at the railway station. “Currently, they have no other place to sleep. Since they have to take the early morning train, they sleep at the station. If they are away from the station, they might miss the train and it will cause them a lot of trouble,” the senior GRP official said.