Everything was usual for 592 Dn Lucknow-Gonda passenger train at Lucknow Junction on Wednesday evening.
Almost. For, what was not usual was the sight of a shy-looking 28-year-old woman — trying hard to avoid media glare, shuffling with unease in the locomotive. Operating alongside loco-pilot Gyanendra Dikshit, Samta Kumari quietly became UP’s first woman (assistant) train driver. (Richa Patel in Varanasi has also joined the service simultaneously) Samta is conscious of her status. But the-storming-of-another-male-bastion term doesn’t affect her. “It’s like any other job. This is the first job I got and, hence, I’m here,” she said. But the journey of Samta, a native of Khagaul near Patna (Bihar), has not been easy. Her father Keshaw Bihari died in 2005, when he was posted in the Divisional Railway Manager’s office at Danapur (Bihar). Eyes riveted to the long stretch of tracks, she is quick to tell that hers is not a compassionate-ground job. Samta said, “I shifted to Hapur in Ghaziabad to study at the ITI there. There were hardships. But self-reliance on mind, I wanted a job.”
And now there is praise and appreciation. North Eastern Railway DRM (Lucknow) Ashok Kumar Singh said, “What sets Samta apart from others is the fact she is qualified. And she does not have the hesitation usually associated with females of her background.”
But don’t people often say the train driver’s job is not for women, as it requires a lot of physical strength. “I don’t think so,” she said, manoeuvring the train with childlike zeal. And she did not have to look too beyond for inspiration. “Our mother Dayawanti Devi always taught us to feel equal. Two elder sisters — Alka and Aarti — are ward councilors in Khagaul. The third sister and the brother — Mamta Rani and Prabhakar — are looking for a job.”
Selected by the Railway Recruitment Board (Gorakhpur), Samta joined duty on January 16 this year and underwent a three-month training. Is she excited? “Yes.” And before you could ask, she said with a grin, “I’m not nervous. I’ve taken trains to Mailani, Gonda and Sitapur.”
The Bihar girl, who stays at a Blunt Square hostel near Charbagh, said her dreams were not fully realised yet. “I want to study more.” And driving an express train is also on her mind!
Lucknow : Years ago, a 32-year-old woman zoomed a Dombivili local train from Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus in what was then called Bombay and became the first woman driver to run a suburban local train. Surekha Yadav instantly became a standard-bearer for women in the traditionally male-dominated domain. Samta Kumari and Richa Patel — the latter after giving been selected is yet to run a train — are also now part of the rare breed. And they are UP’s pride too.
Senior railway official Ashok Kumar Singh said, “As far as I can recall, the first motorwoman was appointed in Mumbai in 1985, followed by another recruitment by Southern Railway in 1988. The Central Railway also later had one-two woman drivers.” He claimed North Eastern Railway (NER) never had women drivers before and went on to add, “These two are the first in Uttar Pradesh.”
Singh, DRM of NE Railway, which has recruited these two woman, looked proud when people and mediapersons jostled with one another to have a glimpse of Samta in the locomotive of Lucknow-Gonda passenger.
“So far, we only spoke of women truck drivers. Now the state is producing women train drivers too.” NER CPRO at Gorakhpur Amit Kumar Singh said, “Richa has been selected for the Varanasi division. She will get her first assignment soon.”
So what does being an assistant loco-pilot mean? Senior divisional mechanical engineer of NER (Lucknow) AK Dikshit said, “The duty entails a lot. From checking the entire locomotive, reading oil balance, he or she has to do a whole lot of work. Both are supposed to call out to each other on noticing signals.” Plus, emergency application of brakes can be executed by either of them. “To begin with, an assistant driver has to do everything after from actual driving,” Dikshit said.
Though DRM Singh said the appointment of the two women was in tune with the Railways’ policy to ensure equal opportunity for women, the sailing is not going to be all that smooth. There still is a lot of male bias. “Some people think a woman cannot run a train as it requires a lot of physical strength.” There are infrastructure issues too. There are no provisions of separate rest rooms for motorwomen. “It will be difficult to take a break after a journey in the male territory,” said a woman employee.
Both women have admitted to having no interest in trains before applying for the job. Admitting that her male colleagues helped her a lot, Samta told mediapersons, “Jo bhi kaam karo man se karo.”