Much of India is outraged by the acts of a mob that molested a teenage girl on a Guwahati street on July 10. What is a greater outrage is the fact that such episodes keep repeating themselves regularly all over the country. While the depravity of the wrongdoers is certainly reprehensible, what has contributed to this nightmare is the fact that more often than not — apart from knee-jerk reactions — the authorities fail to learn any lessons.
Consider the state of the city’s local train system. Recent stats show there are only 129 women constables in the Government Railway Police (GRP) force, who are responsible to ensure the safety of nearly 20 lakh female commuters on Central and Western Railways every day.
The numbers are startling considering about 70 lakh people travel by the two railway networks in the city and suburbs daily. GRP has a workforce of 3,500 personnel.
As per the rules, 30 per cent of the staff should be female, which, obviously, isn’t the scenario.
To make matters worse, complaints from women travellers of harassment meted out to them in various forms is on the rise.
Last year, 517 cases of sexual harassment at railway stations or inside trains were registered. Till June this year, the figure had already surpassed 250. Women commuters claim many more cases go unreported and unregistered.
GRP officials say the increasing instances are worrying them too. “There are complaints every day from one railway station or another. We do take action, but the numbers are high and the miscreants manage to escape in the heavy rush. We are already short-staffed and it’s impossible for us to deploy personnel at every railway station,” said an official.
‘Nobody is safe’
While GRP claims it is serious about such complaints and is trying its best to minimise them, female passengers aren’t buying. Pooja Mhatre, who regularly commutes between Dahisar and Parel, says such instances aren’t new for her. “Sexual harassment, molestation, chain snatching, bag lifting are common maladies that women have to endure on trains every day,” she said.
GRP has time and again griped about it being understaffed, even as it tries to deploy more constables specifically for ladies compartments. DS Bhandare, DCP (GRP), said, “We are carrying out local patrolling and also keep watch on areas where such cases happen frequently. Rest assured, we are in the process of making women commuters safer while they are travelling on trains.”
Railways have provided helpline numbers exclusively for female travellers. GRP officers claim they receive 20-30 complaints on these lines from women commuters every day. Many of these grievances are about beggars and hawkers sitting inside ladies coaches.
Last year, to enhance security for women, GRP introduced two constables per train instead of just one as night escort guards.
People who travel by the two railway networks in the city and suburbs daily
No of sexual harassment cases at stations or inside trains registered till June this year