Indian Railways’ train drivers and guards halting at the Nizamuddin Railway Station stepped out of their engines after long journeys on Friday and went straight to the kitchen — to cook.
The men took to knives and ladles to quell their hunger as the contractual kitchen workers started a strike on Friday, claiming that they haven’t been paid salaries.
“Every month, they tell us we will be paid by the 10th. And every month it gets delayed. If we ask the contractor, he threatens to fire us. This month, it is the 21st and we still haven’t been paid. So we decided to take a stand,” said Shabana, one of the staff.
Local contractor Ashok Aggarwal was not available for a comment.
However, railway officers said it was not an official strike and reassured that the situation was under control. “The staff will never be satisfied. They will complain about something or other at all times,” said senior crew controller, Ram Lal.
“A few employees did not come to work, so we have appointed some government staff to help with the cooking,” said Lal. But caretaker Srikanth Sharma was the only staff member who had turned up to work.
Sharma helped the guards and drivers, while they took care the rest of the cooking.
The men, usually exhausted by the time they reach the halt rooms, look forward to a few moments of rest before getting to enjoy their hot meals.
“We travel over 400 kilometres, and have to travel back again. All we get is a few hours’ rest. In that time, we now have to cook. We cannot starve, can we? We have people with medical conditions too. A few are diabetic. They need to be fed on time,” said guard Chandrakanth Chaturvedi of the Jhansi Mail Express, which had just come in.
Guard BB Srivastav of the same train explained that drivers stand for most of the journey as there is no space to sit in the engine room. “They have to be alert at all times. Many of them can’t even take toilet breaks,” he said.
Guards Chaturvedi, Srivastav, Brajin Bajpayee Ghasi Ram and others are trying to make the best of a bad situation and decided to pitch in to ensure that everybody is well fed.
“Four of us travel together from Jhansi. We decided in the train that we will have cauliflower today,” said Chaturvedi. His friend and colleague, Srivastav, chimed in, “It is like a mini picnic for us. We all come together and stay together too.”
Ram was in-charge of the vegetables. “He chopped and cooked cauliflower and dal for us. It was really good,” said Srivastav.
“The Rajdhani Express driver made roti for all of us,” added Bajpayee.