It's a weekday afternoon. There are just four women in the first class compartment of a Mumbai suburban local train. As the train gathers speed, three teenaged kids catch the running train. The women inside notice them and get alert. The kids are in their own world, slapping passing poles, shouting at people outside as the train speeds by. After five or six stations, the kids get down and go away on their own. But the women, though appeared busy on their phones, had been tense all this while and silently heave a sigh of relief. They were safe.
The train had passed five stations with these kids hanging outside but not on a single station were they detained by cops. No one bothered to reprimand them. There was no point just calling the helpline as the kids had done no crime per se. This is the reality of Mumbai railway.
The attack on the American lady is just an extension of this scenario.
Though cops in uniform are found loitering at stations, they have their own set of jurisdiction issues. And many are simply not bothered about taking any initiative till someone approaches them. Till there is self-initiative from cops with a sense of belonging to Mumbai railway, such attacks will continue to happen with regularity. They should be monitoring women compartments as keenly as they monitor hawkers on which one has paid the last hafta when.
Things would change only after that.
7.5 million commuters travel everyday on Mumbai suburban railway and half of them are women. If you compare the statistics, you shall find the skewed infrastructure given the magnitude of train operations and the commute. Women on Mumbai railway have been getting a raw deal, may it be safety or a basic amenity like a public toilet.
Every time you ask the railways what have they done for women in Mumbai suburban railways, they have a standard reply and churn out a list of ladies special trains and handful of additional ladies compartments on some random train here and there. But they fail to realise that with the addition of every such ladies trains or compartments, the corresponding responsibilities and amenities also have to go up.
A public toilet at some station with huge crowds would be polished and opened but the reality is visit any suburban station on any of the lines today and you shall find ladies toilets locked. Many general managers have tried to put a system in place to sustain functional toilets for women at all stations, but have miserably failed. A new manager every three years means things are back to square one every three years.
Things will not improve for women on Mumbai railway till these basic flaws are set right. Is anybody listening?
rajendraa @ gmail.com