As evening sets in, 22-year-old Mirza Salmabeg casts a glance at her watch. After a few minutes of rest, it is time for the next train to arrive. She confidently walks towards the manual machine and closes down the gates to make way for the train to pass by.
For her, it is a routine job that she performs with all seriousness but for the onlookers, it is an odd sight. And why not, after all, the young woman is one of the very few females employed by the Indian Railways as ‘gatemen’.
It is more than two years now that Mirza has been carrying out her job, largely considered a male bastion, with all attentiveness at the Malhaur railway crossing. She joined the Railways after her father took voluntary retirement from the same duty.
“My mother has paralysis and I have a younger sister to take care of. There is no boy in the family but my parents never lamented. For them, we girls are their strength,” says Mirza, who is very particular about reporting at work on time.
Mirza’s routine is more or less the same every day. Every now and then a telephone rings indicating that a train is about to arrive. She makes note of the schedule and closes down the gate on time, giving a green signal to the train to reach the crossing. After the train is through, she unlocks the gates and makes the entry in the register. One may call the exercise mundane but for Mirza, it is a work that requires utmost care and precision.
“It may appear to be simple but a gateman’s duty entails a great degree of responsibility. The slightest mistake from here could lead to an accident. I am happy that I am a part of the trains’ journey each day,” says Mirza, a graduate.
Though mostly satisfied with her job, Mirza has high ambitions, which make her take time out for studies despite her gruelling 10-hour work schedule. “I am preparing for competitive examinations,” she says with a flourish.