If you have observed a growing number of women commuters covering themselves with scarves while travelling in suburban trains, it’s not a fashion trend. But, only a tactic to protect themselves from peeping toms in adjoining compartments.
Now, fed up with the constant harassment meted out to them by men, women commuters have approached the general manager of Central Railway (CR) to protect them from these prying eyes, who at times have even sexually harassed female commuters.
Nivedita Roy (33), who commutes between Nallasopara and Bandra, said, “We always carry a scarf or chunni while travelling now. It shields us from rampant mobile video recordings and also protects us from male passengers’ abuse. It is so embarrassing, as sometimes they are drunk and we don’t have a choice.”
Some female commuters are even complaining that male commuters sometimes tickle them, as the steel rod partition gives the men ample space to touch them. With incidence like these on the rise, they are asking rail authorities to install steel sheets in place of the rods between the ladies’ and gents’ compartments.
Nazima Sayed, vice-president of Rail Pravasi Sangh, stated that such incidents are rampant. “I know about this problem since long, and I have also heard such complaints and shared them with my fellow members. We have discussed this problem with the railway authorities, and will be writing to them in a couple of days asking them to solve the problem by putting a proper partition between the two coaches,” said Sayed, adding that female passengers have at times telephoned her crying bitterly, saying they don’t have an alternative but to take the local train, and can’t avoid travelling at night.
Railway officials, too, admitted that the problem has existed for a long time and they are frequently bombarded with complaints. “We have registered numerous complaints at the stationmaster’s office at various railway stations. We have also noted down the grievances and forwarded it to the concerned departments. But, they are turned down, as they are marked as merely suggestions from female passengers,” said a senior railway official, on condition of anonymity.
According to railway officials, the complaints have increased since the new MRVC Siemens rakes, which have the steel partition, were introduced in 2007. The new rakes were designed to provide better ventilation, and although they have installed steel sheets in a few trains to point where sitting commuters can’t see in to the adjoining ladies compartment, the problem still remains.
When MiD DAY spoke to the railway spokesperson, he stated that the steel rods help female passengers during any emergency.
A K Singh, PRO, CR, said, “Our first priority is women’s safety. The basic purpose of such a partition is that it is for air ventilation, and also if any miscreants board the ladies compartment, male passengers can help the female passengers. If required, we will carry out necessary modifications.”
Angelina Lobo (31), an Ulhasnagar resident, said “The partition does provide ventilation, but it is embarrassing when male passengers constantly stare at us and pass comments at us.”
Manjari Shinde, who works at CST and commutes between CST and Mankhurd, said, “The problem has been going on for some time now. I work in shifts and I witness many such incidents during the nights. I have seen male passengers abusing and even touching women through the partition. Later, they apologise, but only to strike up a conversation.”
Subodh Jain, General Manager, CR, said, “I know about this problem and have been getting feedback from the passenger associations about these complaints. It is unfortunate that female passengers are scared of travelling in trains. We are trying our level best to do the needful soon. Our first priority is the passengers’ safety and female passengers safety is top-most.”
Meanwhile, Sharat Chandrayan, CPRO, WR, said that they have not received any such complaints.