Although both Central and Western Railways and their security agencies maintain that they have taken a number of initiatives to make local trains safer for women, commuters say there is no substance to their claims.
Of the 75 lakh daily suburban commuters, about 20 lakh are women. Both the railways can reel off half a dozen initiatives for their safety— the introduction of a four-digit helpline number, the patrolling of women’s compartments by special Railway Police Force (RPF) squads at night, the formation of the all-women Surakshini and Tejaswini squads comprising ticket checkers and RPF personnel, the designated ladies’ special trains and the deployment of additional home-guards at railway stations, and the list doesn’t end there.
“Unlike in other coaches, if someone pulls the chain in a ladies’ compartment, the motormen and guard have been instructed to stop trains immediately, even during peak hours,” said Sharat Chandrayan, chief public relations officer, Western Railway (WR)
However, women commuters pointed out some gaping holes in the security plans, in particular the lack of enough policemen on platforms and ladies compartments. Some complained that police personnel are deployed at night only in one or two of the five ladies’ compartments in a 12-coach train, and that they are absent altogether in first-class compartments.
“The security in first-class coaches at night is inadequate. Intruders such as beggars and street urchins often enter the compartment and trouble women,” said Namrata Pawar, a resident of Airoli.
Others said they constantly face catcalls, lewd comments and offensive gestures. Still more complained of miscreants leaning out of trains and lunging at women walking on platforms. “A few days ago, a boy travelling in a train slapped a girl walking at Kurla station. It happened in fraction of seconds and no one saw his face How can we file a complaint and against whom?” said Swapna Nalawade, a teacher.
Many commuters said they were not sure if security agencies would address their complaints at all. “After a spate in chain-snatching incidents at Kalwa station, we had gone to meet Government Railway Police (GPR) officials to ask for police personnel to be deployed near the ladies’ compartment. But instead of acting on our complaint, they advised us not to stand near the doors,” said SP Khopde, a state government employee.
However, some railway officials said it was difficult for them to look out for each of the lakhs of women who travel on local trains every day.