With growing instances of assaults on women using Mumbai’s local trains, a social initiative by an NGO will see women marshals manning the ladies coaches on Western Railways between Andheri and Borivali in the suburbs and between Mumbai Central and Churchgate in South Mumbai
Mumbai, which was once considered a safe haven for women has been now constantly in the news for the wrong reasons. The railways regarded as the lifeline of commuters has been a vulnerable mode of transport for approximately sixty five thousand women passengers who travel daily in the suburban network.
'Me Mukti Marshals', a initiative by Smita Thackeray’s NGO Mukti Foundation has a team of thirteen well-trained women marshals who will travel on the Western Railway trains between 9.30 pm and 12.30 am between Andheri and Borivali and Mumbai Central and Churchgate to ensure a safe commute for the women passengers.
“I have always felt the boiling anger within when I see wrong happening to any women. I have observed that women do not get into local trains ladies compartment late night fearing attack. Earlier, I was into a marketing job as I was a normal woman. Today, I stand up with the cops shoulder-to-shoulder and stand up for women’s rights” said Anita Suryakant Avhad (23) a Me Mukti Marshal.
“I am a home guard and I am also a Marshal. I heard about the fact that this was for women protection. I have always been part of bandobast duty, and this gave me the energy and encouragement. Women feel protected when they meet us. They click pictures on their mobile with us,” said Ranjana Dattaram Sawant (40).
While for some volunteers, anger over the atrocities against women was the movitation, for Manali Sunil Khaire (21) it was her childhood fascination for cops. “I have this childhood fascination for cops and I am a woman. For me, this was to first to protect myself," she said.
“There are a lot of atrocities, I hear and read about. As a woman, I did not feel safe.We should do something for women. In trains, late during the night women feel scared as there are no homeguards or cops. This is something we can do to protect them. This training helps feel strong inside and the women inside me respects me, and I like it. It feels good. Not just as a Mukti Marshal, but as a woman, I can always use this training. The need may arise anytime on a local train or any place for that matter” said Kalpana Bhagat (28), another Me Mukti Marshal.
Responding to queries about what authorities the marshals will have, Smita Thackrey said, “Currently, the Me.Mukti.Marshals have been provided instructions to deter any criminal activity without the use of force, though they have been provided adequate training to stand their ground as well as being equipped with batons and pepper sprays. Thanks to the support of the RPF, in case of any incident, the Marshals will subdue the criminals if they push a certain threshold of threat to the women in the train. The subdued individuals will be handed over to the Railway Police Force and they will then take further action as they see fit. The Me.Mukti.Marshals are a force of women who have been trained to prioritize a peaceful approach over all others and use limited force only if a situation absolutely requires it."
A senior official from the Railway Police Force (RPF) said, "The ratio of cops to the population in Mumbai is very low, any such noble initiative is always appreciated, but the women commuters themselves must be trained in self –defence as cops cannot to be present everywhere."