Women on track
on gangwomen, an integral force of the Railways, who ensure the safety of passengers by manning rail tracks
Behind every successful and safe train journey is the hard work and care of thousands of gangmen and gangwomen, who inspect and maintain the railway track. Gangmen and gangwomen work as guards on the railway tracks, ensuring that the 10,000 trains of the Indian Railways can ferry millions of passengers and tonnes of freight safely across the country.
Prior to 1980, the Railways hired only men for gang duty, mainly due to the arduous nature of the work. The gangs are exposed to extreme weather and often work in hostile terrain. The need to create more employment avenues for women, besides the commitment to provide jobs to widows and female dependants of deceased railway staff, made the organisation encourage women to do this kind of work. It is also a fact that women, prior to the 1980s, were not applying for these jobs.
Today, there are over 3,000 gangwomen with the Railways, and around 500 are posted with the Southern Railway. The numbers are likely to increase as selections are now being done through the Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs). The selection involves running 400 metres, lifting weights and clearing a written test that examines the candidates’ general knowledge and arithmetic skills. "Strangely, most of the women who apply are literate," says Priyamvada Viswanathan, Member Secretary, RRB, Chennai. In several cases, gangwomen hail from railway families.
Each gang has 10 to 12 members, headed by a supervisor, and its fundamental role is to clear the track of ballast and check track fittings by ‘deep screening’. In a layperson’s language, this means cleaning the stones of caked mud, shards of broken material and garbage — like plastic cups on which the tracks are laid; restoring loose stones to their original position under the track; and checking whether fasteners are in place.
These jobs are vital for rail safety. Uneven ballast can make the ride bumpy or even cause a derailment. As for track fittings, if they are not secure, accidents will occur.
The Indian Railway Permanent Way Manual (permanent way or P-Way is technical terminology for rail track) lays down the duties of gangmen or gangwomen. They have to be conversant with safety rules and track geometry.
The equipment they are required to carry indicates the complex nature of their duty — level-cum-gauge (an instrument to measure the tracks), hemp cord, metre stick, keying or spiking hammer, fish bolt spanner, hand signal flags, detonators, marking chalk and rail thermometers, and hand signal lamps at night.
The rail thermometer, for instance, is used to measure track temperature. If the track is too hot, it will buckle and cause the train to run off the tracks. The gangs pour water to cool the track down.
Come rain or sun, these hardy women carry shovels and crowbars, inspecting the track and performing routine maintenance. In South India, many can be heard shouting ‘ailasa, ailasa’ (which means ‘lighten the burden’ in Tamil) while working.
Kumudha, 47, whose work belies her spare appearance, says with pride, "Yes, it is very tough and physically exhausting but I do it as well as any man can." Manavalan, her superior, agrees. He says the all-women gang —comprising 12 women and a supervisor in the Chennai division of the Southern Railway — does the job as well as the men would do. Moreover, "they are punctual and regular."
The day for Kumudha and her fellow gangwomen begins at 4 am, when they wake up and cook for their families and themselves. They report for work at 7.30 am, take an hour’s break for lunch, and then end the day at 4.30 pm. All gangmen and women are dressed in sky blue. Women usually wear sky blue saree and blouse.
In recognition of their service and dedication, the gangwomen of Chennai Division were conferred the Divisional Railway Managers Award during the Railway Week in April last year.
The gangs are responsible to the P-Way Inspector, who has a length of track as his responsibility. The work is assigned to gangs on a planned basis and they work eight hours daily with a weekly off on Sundays, when no track maintenance work is done.
The gang is equipped to deal with minor problems such as fixing small deviations in gauge or elevation of the rails, rearranging ballast, etc.
Kumudha is illiterate, while her colleague Pasupathi, 52, is a Class 6 passout. Their husbands, who were part of IR, died on duty.
The Chief Track Engineer, Southern Railway, S K Gupta, says gang women have become an integral part of the railways. Acknowledging that women work better in a gang when they have other women with them, the Railways has also formed all-women gangs. In other gangs too, rarely is there a single woman among many men.
Pasupathi says that apart from regular salary, she gets free medical aid, free travel, subsidised housing and pension after retirement. Dakhshayani, who has been a gangwoman for 15 years, says emphatically that she cannot think of doing any other job.
Kumudha says her work has equipped her to send her daughter to an engineering college to study information technology. The high point of her career was when she saved a young woman from committing suicide on the tracks. — WFS
A new chocolate named after India’s most colourful politician, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, has become a hit in the rural areas of north Bihar. More than six months after Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was ousted from power in Bihar, he remains more popular than any other leader if the sales of the chocolate, called Lalu ka Khazana, are any indication.
"Lalu chocolate is a big hit in rural areas of north Bihar districts like Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi and Madhubani due to the unmatched popularity of Lalu," said a trader distributing the chocolate.
Lalu ka Khazana, produced by New Delhi-based Chetak company, entered the market about three months ago and soon gained popularity among children in rural areas. Shopkeepers said sales of Lalu chocolate were high owing to its popularity with kids. The colourful wrapper of the chocolate packet depicts two different caricatures of Lalu — one as a politician in his trademark white kurta pyjama with silver hair and the other as a magician attired in a stylish jacket and jeans.
"There is hardly any rural market in north Bihar where demand for the chocolate has not gone up in the last one month," a wholesaler of Muzaffarpur said. According to estimates, over 100,000 packets of Lalu chocolate have been sold in the market till date.
This is not the first time that Lalu Prasad’s brand equity has been used in the market. A Patna-based company had launched "Lalu Khaini" (a sachet of tobacco) two years ago that was also a hit. But later it disappeared from the market. The famous Lalu dolls followed, manufactured by Mumbai-based Speedage Corp.
Much like the man himself, the doll, costing Rs 144, was also clad in a white kurta pyjama with short, silver hair falling over its forehead. — IANS
salute to Bindee Tiwari
Much before Mangal Pandey turned the gun against his British masters, Bindee Tiwari, a sepoy, led his fellow soldiers against the British in defiance of an order to serve across the seas in Rangoon. He lighted a spark that ignited the fire of freedom movement with the revolt that took place at Barrackpore cantonment on November 1, 1824.
The majority of the company’s native soldiers belonged to higher castes. Their masters let them observe their religious customs, etc. and the common man read it as their generosity. They were too gullible to discern that the picture of brotherhood that the British maintained was simply a subterfuge to extend their imperial designs. Everything was fine between them until English officers at Barrackpore ordered an expedition of the 47th Native Infantry to Chittagong and then to Rangoon by sea, in 1824.
The sepoys felt offended by this order, as this also meant that they would be unable to perform their rituals — cooking food, taking a dip, and doing puja — during the voyage. They opposed the official order, saying that there was no mandatory clause in their contract about serving overseas. In order to check this resistance against the imperial might, the British officers not only remained adamant but also stopped the extra allowance. The hardened stance of the British led the sepoys to desist with an equal force. They got together to oppose the British and elected a commander — Bindee Tiwari — from amongst them.
Unable to face the ire of the sepoys under Tiwari’s command, the British officers had no other option but to flee. For two days Barrackpore was under the command and control of Tiwari and his men. Finally the commander-in-chief, Sir Edward Paget, had to intervene. He deployed two European regiments from Dum-Dum Cantonment. Troops of the Governor General’s bodyguard and European Artillery were also pressed to suppress the rising. For a day the exchange of fire went on till the exhausted and far-less-in-number sepoys fled. Most of them were gunned down, some of the them jumped into the Hooghly and drowned, and the few who were left were captured. Tiwari who stood the ground valiantly was captured, brutally tortured and hanged.
The ruthlessness of the colonisers was further exposed when Bindee Tiwari’s body was chained to a peepal tree in Barrackpore. No one was allowed to claim it. He was not cremated; his corpse was left to rot hanging from the tree. This was a strategic intention to instil passive servitude and horror of atrocity in the minds of future rebels.
In memory of this great patriot, the locals have built a temple near the peepal tree and sanctified him as Bindee Baba. The heroism of this sepoy cannot be overlooked. He, too, like Mangal Pandey deserves to be interpolated as one of the protagonists of the Freedom Movement.
Like any other man, Tom Cruise also wants to secure his family’s future, and hence the handsome actor has apparently joined the likes of Justin Timberlake, Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Lopez by venturing into eatery business.
The movie superstar has jointly purchased a new Hollywood restaurant with former Disney boss Michael Ovitz, reports Contactmusic. The new restaurant originally housed trendy diner Citrine.