Passion finds tracks to roll on – On International Women’s Day, RailNews pays tribute to Railway women
Swagatika Priyadarshini, an assistant loco pilot. find out how she has given shape to her dream of a life of adventure
About 30 female assistant loco pilots working in the Khurda Division of the East Coast Railway have successfully smashed the stereotypical notion that some professions are strictly a male arena.
Swagatika Priyadarshini, 25, along with her female colleagues, has proved their mettle in the arduous profession and become the lesser-known role models of our society.
Since her childhood, Swagatika had been well acquainted with the sound of trains as her home in Jajpur was a little away from the railway station. Consequently, she developed a fascination of this popular mode of communication. Speaking in fluent English, Swagatika said she was the first from her family to be working for the Indian Railways.
In 2010, after Swagatika graduated in mechanical engineering, she decided to take the exam for the railway post. Her passion became tangible as she passed the exams with flying colours clearing several stages. “I always had this burning desire of not doing what every girl loves to do. I wanted my career to be full of adventures,” she said.
The loco pilots are given three months training, so that they get accustomed with the rules and duties. They have to be attentive of the signals on the routes and also control the speed of the train.
For Swagatika, who is also married, her day starts early in the morning. Besides, she also has to look after her household.
“My family has a few members, but there are so many families on a train. Alertness is of utmost importance in our profession,” she said.
“In pursuit of such a career, your family has to support you. Luckily, my in-laws, too, have been hugely supportive. The outlook of the society would change with time and education,” she said.
“I am sure that earlier things were not much easy for women. But today, one can find co-operative colleagues and a conducive ambience to work almost in every field. Moreover, there are men, who do encourage women to take up a job,” she said about a sea change in today’s work culture.
“I have never felt any gender discrimination. At the end of the day, if there is a job that has been assigned to you, you do it properly irrespective of which gender you belong to. Our objective is to give a comfortable ride to the passengers,” she said.
Swagatika is a dedicated professional and does not get flustered by the news of head-on collisions and derailment.
“Train accidents are very rare. As a human being, you feel very sad, but that is the occupational hazard we have to deal with. For that matter, all professions have their own risks,” she quipped.
Woman Guard chugs into Male Bastion
Pune: Radha Chalwadi had a career plan, albeit a tad unusual. She wanted to stand in the train’s guard cabin one day and wave the red or the green flag and she had been working towards it.
Chalwadi joined the Railways 16 years ago as a pointswoman, an outdoor job which required her to flag signal trains at stations and even perform minor repairs of tracks and also take empty rakes out of stations. But two years ago, she decided she wanted a more challenging profile and appeared for the inter-departmental examination in 2013. She cleared it to become Pune division’s first woman guard.
Six months ago, Chalwadi (40) started work as a goods train guard, conventionally a male domain given the strenuous field work and odd work hours.
Radha, who is currently in Punjab on work, now travels in goods trains and undertakes all the work that the job entails. She says she enjoys every moment of her work as she had always dreamt of becoming a guard.
“A guard’s job is not conventional, which cannot be done sitting in a cabin with fixed hours. There are no weekends and fixed holidays. But I decided to take up the challenge. It was one of the happiest moments in my life when I passed the examination to become a goods train guard,” said Chalwadi.
Radha’s duty hours range between five and eight hours, stretching to 10 hours at times. She usually opts for goods trains travelling on Pune-Lonavla and Pune-Daund sections.
Her work begins a couple of hours before the train’s departure and includes checking the air pressure in the train, alignment of wagons, locks, doors and brakes. She monitors the train when it moves on tracks, generates reports and checks if there is anything amiss.
“My job is not to simply sit in the guard’s cabin. It needs concentration. Sometimes the job becomes really challenging especially when I have to take a round of long goods train having 40-odd wagons and check locks of doors and air pressure in every wagon. Initially, I found it difficult, but no longer so. I feel proud that women can take up challenging jobs like men,” said Radha.
Radha said her family and colleagues supported her. “My family accepted my odd-working hours, and this helped me to pursue my job,” she said.
Her journey has only begun. “After a goods train guard, she can become a passenger train guard and then an express train guard. There is also an option of opting for the post of a section controller and then chief controller,” said an official from the Pune division.
Engineer awarded for negotiating deal
Vaishali Pateria (42) a civil engineer was given a Special Achievement Award by the Central Railway (CR) for single-handedly negotiating with people who had encroached on the fifth and sixth line between Vikhroli and Kanjurmarg and resolving the deadlock.
Ms Pateria, who had joined the Railways back in 1991, said that she took the decision to apply, as the advertisement put out by Railways was very unusual and interesting. “Women should consider and be aware that the job involves a lot of field work and is physically demanding,” she elaborated.
Ms Pateria was posted to look after the Rawli Flyover, and later on in 2009 to 2010, she was to overlook the construction of the new fifth and sixth line between Kurla and Thane. The project had hit a dead end, as the land — although handed over by the BMC — housed a political party’s office.
Ms Pateira said, “Whenever a male engineer would try to talk to the party people, they would just plant a woman leader to press their case, because of which the engineers got scared when dealing with them.”
Ms Pateria then took the initiative and talked to the women. “I told them that the work was meant to help lakhs of commuters and after a few meetings, they got our point and allowed us to demolish the office,” she said.
Ms Pateria, who is currently at the post of deputy chief engineer (construction), oversees new construction between Thakurli and Mulund.
“I know this is cliché, but I truly wouldn’t have been able to do what I do without the support of my husband Dhirendra and my colleagues,” she said.
A woman achiever who overcame disability
Since she joined a non-governmental organisation in 2008, Jayasree has been training scores of differently abled persons in multi-media software, and artificial jewellery making and beautician course.
In 2009, she formed Calliper Women, an NGO, by bringing together a group of women with hearing disabilities. The NGO works towards making women with hearing impairment employable. It also offers counselling for differently abled women. She was a full time worker for three years at a computer centre run by UDIS Forum for differently abled persons.
An academically brilliant student, she stood State first in the commerce stream in Class XII public examination. She is also a qualified typist in both English and Tamil and has had a year’s training in computer engineering besides beautician course.
An impressive list for any person, but Jayasree’s achievements shine all the more brightly for she has managed to achieve all this overcoming her own disability of hearing impairment.
Her contribution to the cause of helping differently abled persons was recognised with a ‘Women Achiever’ award by the Avinashilingam Women Study Centre on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8). She received the award from J. Mohanasundari, Managing Director of Sharp Industries, during a function. Sheela Ramachandran, vice-chancellor of Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women, presided over the event.
The society, Ms. Jayasree said, was now waking up to the needs of differently abled persons. Educational institutions, particularly the universities, have a major role to play. She said that sign language must be included in the school curriculum.
Others who received the award were Sherin Philip, District Social Welfare Officer, P. Uma Makeshwari, social worker, K. Aruna, Protection Officer of the Social Welfare Department, and U. Elizabeth, Women Development worker, Good Shepherd Health Education Centre and Dispensary.