GUWAHATI, March 7 - She may not have heard about �The Suffragettes� or about Simone de Beauvoir and Rosa Luxemburg, or even about Avani Chaturvedi (who recently became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo), for that matter.
But, in her own ways, Anjali Banikya is a trendsetter and pioneer, who, along with 19 other women of the Coach Maintenance Depot (CMD) Guwahati under Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has created a sort of record and broken another glass ceiling.
As the world gets ready to mark the International Women�s Day tomorrow, Banikya and her 19 colleagues have now become the first ever �All Women Maintenance Batch� in the entire Indian Railways.
The �All Women Maintenance Gang�, as it will be called, will work in the pitlines of the CMD, adjacent to the Guwahati Railway Station, and will not only be responsible for checking and certification of the insides of the coaches like seats, curtains, toilets and windows, but also the undergear portion beneath the coaches. The all-women gang will start their formal work from tomorrow.
�We have to check brakes, couplings, gears, wheels, everything. All technical maintenance and upkeep of the coaches, before they begin the next journey, will now be solely our responsibility,� Banikya told this newspaper.
Originally hailing from Baihata Chariali, the 40-plus mother of two girls has been engaged in ancillary jobs at the CMD for the past 12 years.
Now, in a bid to encourage women as well as with a view to streamlining the workforce at a time when manpower is running short of demand, NFR has adopted the novel initiative of forming all-women gangs for maintenance at CMD Guwahati. This is the first time any zone under the Indian Railways has formed such a team � comprising solely women � engaged in technical activity.
�It feels great. This is a big responsibility. When men can do such work, why cannot women,� said Rita Devi, who works as a technician at CMD Guwahati and is also part of the all-women gang. As passenger trains have up to 20-22 coaches, each lady will have to walk a distance of 4-5 kilometres on an average while working on each train.
�They (the team) will be answerable and accountable. Earlier women were only employed in ancillary works at the depot, but now we have for the first time engaged them in core activities. All the women chosen in the first batch of 20 are competent technicians,� said Kapil Jambhulkar, Senior Coaching Depot Officer of CMD Guwahati, and the brain behind the new concept.
The first batch of 20 women were selected in February and given one week of theoretical classes, followed by three weeks of practical training working on the trains.
For the time being, they will only be deployed during the day hours, but Jambhulkar said that over time, taking into consideration the security factor (as the pitlines are located in open areas), they may be deployed for maintenance work at night as well. In addition, plans are also afoot to form more such all-women gangs. CMD Guwahati has 1,500 workers and around 130 of them are women.
The depot has three pitlines located at Guwahati Railway Station, Kamakhya and New Guwahati. It is among the five biggest depots in India and operates 24X7 and 365 days a year, with dozens of trains serviced every day. Pitlines are places used for cleaning, repair and safety check of all trains between journeys.
�Like all other teams, the all-women team will also issue certificates after maintenance and inspection and only then will the trains be allowed to depart. Undergear section work involves checking all safety parameters and it is a huge task,� said NFR Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO) Pranav Jyoti Sharma.
Asked if they have any complaints regarding the new responsibilities, Banikya and Devi as well as their colleagues said they would be more comfortable if they are allowed to wear salwar instead of the regulation saree during working hours.
�It will definitely be more comfortable if we can wear salwars while working in the undergear sections beneath the superstructure,� said Devi. It is noteworthy that Indian Railways already operates all-women stations at Matunga (Mumbai) and Gandhinagar.