Railway level crossings in the district are once again in the news, albeit for a reason other than accidents. Gatekeepers posted recently at 21 level crossings in the district are the one who are drawing attention to the spot again, this time, with a protest that demands the Indian Railway to “consider them as human beings”.

The gatekeepers, who staged a protest in front of the Pathirapally level-crossing on Friday, said Railway authorities, following a huge public outcry over regular accidents at unmanned level crossings, had posted men at 21 crossings in the district and installed gates as well. However, the men who were posted at the gates are being treated shoddily, they alleged.

“The gatekeepers have been asked to sit in temporary asbestos sheet sheds, with no drinking water, no latrines, and this, they have to do for 12 hours at a stretch. Labour laws are being flouted blatantly here,” said K.P. Haridas, the district secretary of the Dakshina Railway Employees Union (DREU), which has joined hands with the CITU for the protest. The gatekeepers, meanwhile, say they were suffering in silence for fear of losing their jobs.

“We are supposed to be in the shed for the entire 12 hours. Forget the discomfort of sitting in an asbestos shed in this heat, we can't even go out for a cup of tea since we have to be near the telephone all the time,” says one of the keepers.

The union leaders say talks were held with Railway authorities, who had assured of permanent gates to ensure safety of the public apart from gate lodges to provide basic comforts to the gatekeepers. Work had started on some of these lodges, but not all the gates were being given the facilities, which was why the protest was launched, they said, adding that the gates were now appearing as steps taken to merely silence the public outcry.

The other demands raised by the gatekeepers, other than the one to “treat them as humans”, included cutting the working hours from 12 to eight hours, adherence to Labour laws and provision of basic amenities at the gates.

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