Women train drivers step up 'job change' demand after lady guard attacked on duty

Rekha, a 28-year-old guard, was assaulted by some goons when the freight train she was deployed in stopped at a red signal ahead of Madurai Railway Station.
Last Updated : 30 April 2024, 16:30 IST
Last Updated : 30 April 2024, 16:30 IST

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New Delhi: Various railway unions representing female drivers have intensified their demand for a one-time option to change job category after a lady guard of a freight train was attacked near Madurai Railway Station in Tamil Nadu on Monday.

Rekha, a 28-year-old guard, was assaulted by some goons when the freight train she was deployed in stopped at a red signal ahead of Madurai Railway Station.

According to Southern Railway, two juveniles entered the guard’s cabin with the intent to snatch Rekha’s mobile phone, money and other valuables.

“When she resisted, they assaulted her with a sickle and ran away with her valuables. She sustained head injuries but somehow managed to communicate it to the loco pilot who arranged medical assistance for her,” a railway official said.

She was admitted to a hospital and is being treated. The Railway officials have asked for assistance from local police. “One of the miscreants is in custody,” the official said.

However, female frontline workers, including drivers, have raised concerns regarding their safety and said that the incident once again highlights the failure of the Railways to provide safe working conditions for women.

“This is not the first incident. In the past, female frontline workers faced such assaults and they are always vulnerable because there is no provision in the Railways to deploy female workforce keeping safety as first priority,” Sanjay Pandhi, the working president of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO), said.

Female drivers said the deployment of female staff in freight trains, be it a driver or a guard, raises safety concerns for several reasons.

“Freight trains often have unscheduled stoppages for hours at deserted spots in forest areas or rural belts even very late at night. The engine cannot be locked from inside which poses a huge risk to the life of a female driver or assistant driver,” a female loco pilot said.

“The guard’s cabin is at the end of the train and there is no provision to have any additional staff for the safety of a female guard. She is all alone on duty even at night which is extremely scary,” she added.

Experts associated with train operations say the career progression in train driving is such that every female driver or guard has to work in freight trains to be promoted to passenger train driver or guard.

“They cannot skip this stage and directly be deployed on passenger trains. It is against the safe train operation norms because drivers need to have a lot of experience before they are deployed on passenger trains,” a railway official said.

Female drivers suggest that Railways should brief them about these challenges at the time of recruitment.

“We want a one-time option for change of job category because we were not briefed at the time of entering this profession that we would have to compromise with our safety as well,” another lady loco pilot said.

All India Railwaymen Federation, General Secretary, Shiva Gopal Mishra seconded their demands and said, “I request the Railways to consider their demands and offer jobs at other departments.”

A group of female loco pilots, who are members of the All India Railwaymen Federation, recently gave a representation to the Railway Board chairperson Jaya Varma Sinha, highlighting their plight and demanding “a one-time cadre change” option.

Lack of toilet facilities in engines, inability to change menstruation pads, mandatory provision to get out of the engine to attend to any technical glitch even at night and no pick-up and drop facility for late-night duties are some of the problems cited by the women train drivers.

These female drivers demanded that their jobs should be changed if the Railways couldn’t improve the work conditions.

Published 30 April 2024, 16:30 IST

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