Taking the increasing number of complaints from female commuters regarding theft and misbehaviour into consideration, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) has put 96 RPF women police from its ‘Mahila Vahini’ squad at major railway stations in the suburban region. The team will safeguard the female passengers commuting by the local trains in Mumbai.
Originally introduced in both Central (CR) and Western Railways (WR) in 2010, the Mahila Vahini squad are separate from the female police force in RPF. They had been initially deployed inside coaches and on platforms, outside the ladies coach.
“The team of Mahila Vahini officers had removed many hawkers and were of great help to female commuters, but we had to cancel their operation of moving through different stations as their travel expenditure was too high. The bill for a month of travelling had come to nearly Rs 8 lakh,” said an RPF official. There were a total of 116 officers each for WR and CR when the squad was introduced, but now CR has 96 and WR has 67, with the rest being transferred to other departments or put on other duties.
Though railway authorities don’t have any official record for the female commuters in the suburban section, according to some senior railway officials, CR carries over 12 lakh and WR carries over 8 lakh of female commuters daily. Hence, 96 Mahila Vahini personnel will be present at stations to safeguard female passengers from now.
According to a senior RPF official, nearly 8 to 10 Mahila Vahini personnel will be deployed at major railway stations including Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus, Dadar, Kurla, Thane and Kalyan. “Two Mahila Vahini officers will be deployed outside the female coaches of each major railway stations. Even then, it will be difficult for us to cover all the platforms and each female coaches,” said the official. However, in WR, the Mahila Vahini has been given specific posts at railway police stations.
Last year, 517 cases of sexual harassment at railway stations or inside trains were registered. Till June this year, the figure had crossed 250. The railways have provided helpline numbers exclusively for female travellers, on which GRP officers claim they receive 20-30 complaints 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.
Alok Bohra, senior divisional security commissioner, RPF, (CR) said, “These female police have been deployed, but will initially be at major railway stations only due to lack of staff.”