More women are entering the male-dominated profession of piloting trains

Like most of us, Surekha Yadav, too, loved to play the chhuk chhuk rail gadi as a child but never did she ever dream that one day she will drive a real train and become the first woman loco driver in Asia. Surekha is also the only woman in India who has had the privilege so far of driving a mail express.

It was only during her training, says Surekha, she realised that she had entered an area that had so far been completely dominated by men. But once she was selected, she tried to give her best; today Surekha has the distinction of having driven local suburban trains, ghat trains, goods as well as mail express trains.

However, the most precious moment in Surekha’s 24-year-long career came when she took the driver’s seat of the prestigious Deccan Queen on the picturesque Pune-Mumbai route on Women’s Day on March 8 last year. Passengers’ overwhelming response and the authorities’ praises made it a memorable day for her.

At present, there are nearly 50 women loco pilots driving either suburban trains or goods trains or working as shunters or assistant drivers; they all dream of piloting the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis and other superfast trains one day.

While watching trains passing by close to the railway quarters she lived in as a child, says Mumtaz Kazi, she would dream of piloting a train one day. When an advertisement appeared in 1988 announcing that the post was open to women candidates, she grabbed the chance and applied against her father’s wishes. She passed the written test and interview with flying colours. It was her father’s friend, who persuaded Mumtaz’s father to let his daughter fulfil her dream, to which he reluctantly agreed but today he is proud of her.

Mumtaz is now serving the most crowded railways in the world — the Mumbai suburban system — and has full support from her husband and in laws. Born in a small village in Bihar, Mumtaz says that driving local trains in Mumbai is an everyday challenge for it involves the responsibility of carrying safely more than 5000 commuters to their destinations. There are a large number of signals and between 25 to 30 stations on the way; and if she sees someone crossing the track, she have to bring down the speed fast to avoid casualty from 100 to zero which takes three minutes. Apart from safety, punctuality and alertness, she also have to take care of technical snags or even handle irritant passengers if the train is delayed for some unavoidable reason.

Her only complaint is that absence of promotions and change in schedules make the work frustrating at times. “But a smile from a commuter, especially from a child, is sometimes enough to take away the drudgery and frustration,” Mumtaz says.

The great moment for Satyavathi of the South Central zone came last year year when after shuttling goods train for years, she finally drove the Mathrubhoomi Ladies Special MMTS train from Falaknuma to Lingampalli on Women’s Day.

Laxmi Lakra from Jharkhand of the North Zone drives goods trains in and around Delhi and is looking forward to a day when she, too, would be entrusted with piloting a mail express.

Driving trains remained strictly a man’s domain till about 24-25 years back but after Surekha Yadav led the way, more and more woman are opting to take the seat behind the wheels of the Indian Railways.

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