The recent incident where a 19-year-old girl was thrown out of a train in Mumbai, while raised questions about the security situation in the city’s local services, a close look at the security arrangements in women’s coaches in Pune-Lonavala local trains paints an equally alarming picture.
According to passengers, women-only compartments in most of the local services have no cops during the day.
While the Railway Protection Force (RPF) claimed it has deployed constables in local trains that ply after 8 pm, passengers and activists said cops were rarely seen on-board the trains, especially in the women-only compartments. Even when they were deployed, passengers said, the cops were insufficient in manning the number of coaches. In total, there are 40 local services, including UP and DOWN, between Pune and Lonavala, and four services between Pune and Talegaon. Every train has 12 coaches, of which three are reserved for women.
Ashlesha Jadhav (25), who travels between Pune and Lonavala three days a week, said, “I have rarely seen a cop inside the women’s coach of local trains. When boys climb the compartment, we have no one to approach with a complain.”
Snehal Bingarkar, a yoga teacher who has been travelling between Pune and Akurdi for the last 30 years, said the situation was not as bad as “it appeared to be in Mumbai”. But women can certainly do with more security aboard the compartments reserved for women, she added.
“The number of passengers using local services has gone up three to four times in the last 20 years. However, the number of trains has remained the same. This, obviously, results in rush in the compartments and passengers have to face trouble, especially while boarding and deboarding the trains. Miscreants make most of this opportunity. Many incidents of pickpocketing take place during boarding and deboarding,” said Bingarkar.
Professor Anamika Ghosh, who teaches at Chinchwad college and has been travelling in local trains since 2008, said women often face harassment from men travelling in the reserved coaches as well as from eunuchs. A few days ago, Ghosh lost her purse while boarding the train. “Pickpocketing is extremely common in ladies’ coaches. Also, eunuchs often harass passengers for money. There’s no deployment of security personnel here. In all these years, I haven’t seen a single cop inside the ladies’ coaches,” she said.
Harsha Shah of Railway Pravasi Group said boys often board the women-only coaches and harass passengers by passing lewd comments or making vulgar gestures. She added that shortage of staff with GRP and RPF means that no cops are deployed even on long duration coaches, let alone local trains, which are a ‘second priority’.
“Local trains are unmanned during the day and night. The RPF and GRP may claim that they deploy cops during the night but it is a lie, because they are rarely seen. For three coaches, one or two constables are deployed, which is insufficient,” she said.
Gulam Ali Bhaldar of Chinchwad Pravasi Sangh said women often have to tolerate harassment even in women-only coaches. “If there are no cops inside the coach who will they report to? Most of the women who travel daily using locals during peak hours are working, who don’t want to get into fights,” said Bhaldar, adding that at least two women constables should be deployed in every coach.
“Over 12,000 passengers travel everyday in women coaches. It’s the responsibility of the railways to ensure that their journey is safe and peaceful,” said Bhaldar, adding that several requests to increase police presence in the coaches have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile, Sanjay Satav, police inspector (GRP), Pune Railway Station, said deployment of cops in women-only coaches was not a “regular feature”, but maintained that “deployment is made during rush hours”.
Manoj Jhawar, spokesperson, Pune Division of the Central Railways, said RPF deploys its men in all the local services operating between Pune and Lonavala post 8 pm. On the number of constables deployed per coach, he said, “Adequate arrangements have been made.”