Three years ago, Badlapur-resident Archana Bhapakar, 58, reluctantly quit her job. The daily local train travel defeated her.
Bhapakar, whose office was in Matunga, spent three hours daily travelling between her home and workplace. Often, she had to hold her bladder till the time she reached her destination. Twice, she fell on the platform trying to board an overcrowded train at Dadar. If you are a woman and use the city’s suburban train network, you have faced all this and worse.
Ahead of Women’s Day, HT spoke to women who use the suburban railway regularly, and most had the same problems: they are pushed past in ticket queues, shoved aside on crowded FOBs. Toilets are hard to locate, and when found, are dirty, smelly, and guarded by attendants who insist on overcharging for the service.
The problems go beyond inconvenient travel: factors such as these contribute in keeping women out of public life, say experts. “If we want economic development of women, we need to provide them safe and convenient travel options to their workplace. This includes cleaner toilets, more space for women in trains and buses, among others,” said AL Sharada, director of Population First, a non-government organisation working for women empowerment.
Women contribute a significant share of the railway’s revenue: at present, more than 16 lakh (22%) of the 72 lakh daily suburban commuters are women — around 8.58 lakh on the Central Railway (CR) and 7.5 lakh on the Western Railway (WR). Still, women commuters have to do without the most basic of facilities – clearly displayed signage to direct them to toilets or station masters’ offices, crowded FOBs and staircases, the lack of separate ticket counters.
“Women from all age groups travel long distances to reach their workplaces. Many suffer from diabetes, hormonal imbalances or gynaecological issues. Railway authorities must pay more attention to their needs,” said Lata Argade, vice-president, Suburban Rail Passengers Federation.
While the government has deputed RPF and GRP personnel in women’s coaches, commuters feel they need to be more sensitive. “RPF helpline attendants are not cooperative. They need to be more sensitive towards women complainants,” said Sunita Desai, Curry Road resident.