ALAPPUZHA: Class IV student Anjana and sister Archana barely notice the rumbling of trains. They are used to it. If you thought their house was nearby, that’s far from the truth. At least three days a week, they study, eat and sleep in a tiny room less than 10 feet from the track - the railway gatekeeper’s cabin!
Daughters of Rahna V R, the gatekeeper at the level crossing at Aroor in Alappuzha, the children - along with their father - are forced to accompany their mother as the job demands security through the night. The Railways is simply unable to provide security for women staffers at level crossings. Rahna’s husband - a driver - remains with them after work, though the trains thundering past at odd hours often leave him sleep-deprived.
The family’s case is not isolated. There are around 351 railway level-crossings in the Thiruvananthapuram railway division alone. And the Alappuzha stretch accounts for the highest number of level crossings - around 100 - in the country. Around 30 per cent of railway gates at these crossings in Kerala are manned by women, braving up to a variety of social issues.
Shari S, the gatekeeper at P S Junction, near Ezhupunna, told Express women on duty at level crossings at night have to face different forms of harassment from anti-social elements. Some bare their private parts at women, or hurl abuses at them. Some would try to peep into the rest room through the window, the panes of which might have already been broken by them.
“Since there is no bathroom attached to the cabin in many places, it’s a big challenge to answer nature’s call at night,” she said.
“I used to hire a middle-aged woman from nearby for security as my husband, a civil excise officer, is often unavailable at night. The job is not that challenging, but the attitude of the people makes the life of a woman gatekeeper miserable. The level crossings are often situated at remote places where the presence of snakes is very high. But the anti-social elements who take the shape of ‘snake’ after consuming liquor are more dangerous and venomous than the real snakes.”
Alarmingly, many women gatekeepers subjected to different kinds of harassment refuse to complain under normal circumstances as they have to work in the same place the next night without any security.
“The local police, railway police or the RPF have certain limitations in providing adequate protection for these women round the week,” said Pribin CP, Alappuzha branch secretary of the Southern Railway Mazdoor Union (SRMU).
The union’s state secretary, S Gopikrishna, said: “We have submitted numerous representations to the Railway authorities seeking intervention. By installing surveillance cameras or fencing the area, or by setting up an alarm to alert the police or the RPF in case of an emergency, the Railways can instil a sense of security in the minds of these hapless women who work for them.”
While admitting it is a serious issue, Prakash Bhutani, divisional railway manager, Thiruvananthapuram, said the Railways has certain limitations in providing round the clock security to these women. However, the Railways can consider installing CCTVs at level crossings where chances of the general public confronting railway staff are very high.