Wikinews discusses International Women's Day celebration with Mysore Divisional Railway Manager

Sunday, March 8, 2020

This Thursday, an all-women crew ran the MysoreBangalore Tippu Express in the Indian state of Karnataka. The state-run Indian Railways launched this event ahead of International Women's Day, for promoting gender equality at work places. Aparna Garg — who has been the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) for Mysore Division for almost two years — discussed this initiative with Wikinews. International Women's Day is observed on March 8.



Good afternoon, ma'am. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Allow me to congratulate Mysuru Division for this all-women crew — the crew which ran the Tippu Express from Mysore to Bangalore on Thursday. How many employees were there in this all-women crew?

Aparna Garg, the Mysore Divisional Railway Manager discussed about this year's initiatives for International Women's Day by South Western Railway's Mysore division with Wikinews
Image: acagastya.

 ((Aparna Garg )) There were fifteen of them. A crew per-se combines only the loco pilot (locomotive pilot) and the guard. But all the people who ran [the train], it includes the ticket checking staff, the escort staff, the RPF (Railway Police Force) staff. So combining everybody, it was around fifteen people.

 ((WN )) How rare is it to have all-women crew running the train?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Yeah, it is really rare. Actually, we are in a process of a ten-day campaign for International Women's Day and we have lined up one activity each day. So this initiative was a part of that campaign.

 ((WN )) Was it the first time an all-women crew ran the train in the Southern Western Railway?

 ((Aparna Garg )) No, not really. It has been done in other divisions as well. Mysore, maybe the first time.

 ((WN )) Has it ever happened before in any other regional divisions which you are aware of?

 ((Aparna Garg )) I think in Bangalore they did a little bit. Whether it was all-women, but they did run a train. And all-India basis also they have done.

 ((WN )) Could you please tell us more about this feat, and when was this planned?

All women-crew before Thursday's journey from Mysore to Bangalore
Image: South Western railway, Indian Railways.

 ((Aparna Garg )) As I told you, that we have a ten-day campaign running for International Women's Day, the theme of which is "Each for Equal". And "Each for Equal" is basically each of us can contribute in creating a gender-equal world. Each area they [women] are working, it is not getting highlighted at all. There are basically male-dominated areas where earlier women were not coming. But nowadays, we see in large number, the women come. And in railways, these are [rare] works: loco pilot, working as a keyman; keyman means basically it is designation "keyman" but when woman works, it could be keywoman: they have to patrol on the tracks. So there are these people who are working so hard, [?] checking the trains completely. So that is why we decided to give it publicity and make it an all-women crew.


Image: South Western railway, Indian Railways.

 ((WN )) Was this event planned by the Southern Western Railway, or was it an Indian Railways initiative?

 ((Aparna Garg )) This was an initiative of Mysore Division. Mysore Division is a part of South Western Railway.

 ((WN )) What has the Indian Railways planned for this International Women's Day?

 ((Aparna Garg )) They have given a theme of different things to be done. The campaign theme, as I told you, "Each for Equal", which can significantly and collectively, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world.

And from 1st of March to 10th of March we have to celebrate, then we have to organise some talks, lectures; then, basically, anything which comes in the public purview to highlight the steps taken by Indian Railways for the empowerment of women, enhancing the role of women in all fields. And [...] basically take steps for the female staff of our division. Social media posts we have to do of whatever we are doing [for the celebration]. Women-specific videos, we have to add.

What we are doing in Mysore division, we did a couple of activities: [...] we had a medical check-up, specifically screening for cervical cancer. Not only for the staff working in the office, but also for the contract staff. The cleaning staff which you see on the station, they are not permanent employees. And they don't have access to good health. There are a lot of ladies working there. Today, I took a lot of ladies who were working in the division office as well as our field for a trek to Chamundi Temple. So we went [in the] morning there. And tomorrow we have some event planned.

 ((WN )) Could you please tell us about this year's theme, the celebration of Women's Day, and how is it different from last year's?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Last year, it was basically focused on the particular day, 8th [March] alone. The idea of spreading it over ten days is very significant.

 ((WN )) What are the activities planned in this phase?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Basically our aim is to encourage lot of participation by women employees in different activities other than their office work, so they get a break. This is for our own employees. Promote them. Encourage them. Create awareness about their own talent. Like, within the office, we organised "pick-and-speak" or some things like that and a lot of such events, where we found that even our Group D staff are so talented, some of them. So basically giving them a break from their routine. That was one for our female employees. And we are trying to take care of the staff that are working at the station as well as to the women passengers providing enhanced security.

 ((WN )) Would you call this event a success?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Yeah, so far, yes.

 ((WN )) What are the challenges faced by women working for Indian Railways?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Challenges, I would say, are the same as you find in the society. For a women to achieve something, is not as easy as it is for a man. They have to put double the effort, and the recognition comes very late. And then women are multi-tasking everywhere. So a lady who comes to work in the office: first sees her house and then she comes [to work] and then again she goes back and she does [household work]. So she is much more pressure, and I find them very sincere. Despite all the pressure, I find them extremely sincere and dedicated.

 ((WN )) What are the possible remedies to these issues?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Issues are basically: celebration of Women's Day and all these events, they do bring women in focus. But what is required at large is a change in the society and the mindset, which should begin in each house. And if we have boys in the house and we have male colleagues, we have to sensitise them more. And so that, once we have the support of these people and their mindset changes, and that is how we can influence the collective consciousness.

 ((WN )) What is the gender-distribution ratio at the Mysore Division branch?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Mysore Division, we have ten percent only women employees. Out of a total of, say, 6900 [employees], we have around 650. So that is around ten percent.

 ((WN )) Are you happy with this number?

 ((Aparna Garg )) Yeah, it is okay. See, the idea is: each according to their choice. The people who have chosen [to work here] have gotten. I personally don't believe in this too much of gender-bias. They are all individuals.

 ((WN )) Has this number been improving in the past years?

"More number of women getting into technical fields has been a big change."  — ‍Aparna Garg, Mysore Divisional Railway Manager

 ((Aparna Garg )) It has improved. It has improved, it was around seven or eight percent, over the two years it has increased. More number of women getting into technical fields has been a big change. Earlier it wasn't coming. You would find in office staff, okay, which is a ministerial cadre. But now, getting women employees in loco pilot category, in station masters, as guards, as pointswoman: they are all working [on] track, as carriage and wagon helpers. So yes, there has been a change.

[Women] loco pilots are coming in a big wave. And it is not a very difficult job. The duty hours is eight-hours. So once they cover eight hours, they change. So it is not that in some remote areas they have to drive. No. Eight hours, their shift changes. So if a loco pilot starts from here, maybe at Arsikere or some place, they will change. So we have something called running rooms, where the have all the facilities. So they deboard there, and after taking due rest, they take a train back to their home place. So yes, ladies are coming in a big wave.

 ((WN )) What are the steps Indian Railways is taking for improving this number?

 ((AN )) There is not [gender-based] reservation per-se, [from] what I know, but Indian [Railways] has been very open about it. Now you see DRM's, I am sitting here. There was a time when the number of ladies who'd become DRM was very less. So now, we have around 60 division, maybe eight are women. So the numbers: everywhere it is going up. It has been very positive about it.

Map of Mysore Division of the South Western Railway
Image: South Western Railway, Indian Railways.

 ((WN )) Can you brief me your role as Mysore Divisional Railway Manager?

 ((Aparna Garg )) As Divisional Railway Manager, I am in charge of all the operations, all the train running, and my division is around 1300 route kilometres. It extends from Chamarajanagar. It goes right up to, just short of Hubli up to Karajagi. And on the other side, next to Tumkuru. It starts and then goes up to Mangalore this side. Including Hassan and some more branch lines are there which goes up to Chikmagalur and goes up to Raidurga. So this is my jurisdiction. I have a set of 30 officers with me. A lot of supervisors and other staff. Total staff, I told you, is around 6900 for Mysore division. And controlling everyday basically taking the team along, taking decisions, small-small decisions which help in running of the train, carrying out all the initiatives and directions of the ministry is my job.

 ((WN )) For how long have you been working here as the Mysore Division Railway Manager?

 ((Aparna Garg )) I will be completing my two years' tenure in April.

 ((WN )) Can you please brief me about your career highlights so far?

 ((Aparna Garg )) My career highlights have been opting for civil services at a very young age, in my first attempt was [the] first important step in my career. Otherwise in my student days there were many things that I did. I was a student leader. I had other achievements. But coming to the career, and thereafter, I [had] initially joined Western Railway. But then came down to South, and I worked in different capacities. Then, after a few years into the service, I was selected for the Chevening Fellowship in [the] UK, where I did my advanced masters and postgraduate in transport economics. That was a big achievement because very few years into service having been selected for that: it was a completely scholarship programme, I did not have to pay for it. So that was a big achievement. Then, while I was posted in the construction wing, making a software programme for: making means piloting a state of art system [which was] Oracle-based for project management. It was integrated with financial management personal management system as well as store's material management. So piloting that completely, that I would call it as a big highlight. And then getting posted as a Divisional Railway Manager: there were a lot of challenges. Challenge was: the railway station which you see, it was a big project. Working station, improving that, improving the circulating area and then retaining the heritage, and enhancing it faced a lot of flak and opposition also. Because when we do the work, everything looks like in the stage of construction. So you get all type[s] of things. And then still continuing to do; and I have taken a few more challenging works in the division. One is adjacent to our sports ground, there is [an] area which is not very clean. So I have decided to clean it up and make it an ecospace. That project we are working on. The railway museum, which is a must-visit for people, and it's been a 40 years old museum. [In 19]79-80 it was established in a small area. After that, it has not been taken care of so much that the condition was not good. And this was a sanctioned project ten years back. But work had not happened. It was very very challenging what we have done. And we are soon going to open it on 14th. [...] Even Mysore Yard remodelling. We were not able to push our trains from all the platforms towards Ashokapuram-side. And we were not able to simultaneously receive train from Hassan-side and SBC (KSR Bangalore)-side. If a train from Bangalore-side is coming, that would stop. So there were a lot of yard changes which had to be done. Including our interlocking software. This was also very challenging which required a year of planning. We did this successfully. So like this, there were small-small works which were all pending, and which were not done. So we have done a very comprehensive work. But credit will go to the team also.

 ((WN )) How is South West Railway and Mysore Division taking precaution against the spread of coronavirus?

 ((Aparna Garg )) My CMD [Chief Health Director], I have been talking to her everyday. We have an isolation ward in the hospital but at the station, I think, we are playing a clip about the precautions to be taken. If we come to know, we should take more cautions. Basically the citizens have travelled to these places: like China, South Korea and people from the far East have been coming. So we should announce and we should isolate them. We are yet to put a segregated space in station. That we have not done. But I think, announcements and all we are doing. And if I come to know here, masks and all: we are distributing. And more important is here, the staff who is dealing with the public on a daily basis like out ticket collectors and guards and all, they have been given masks.

 ((WN )) Thank you very much. That would be all the questions I had for you.


Image: Mysore Division, South Western Railway.

Image: Mysore Division, South Western Railway.

Image: Mysore Division, South Western Railway.

Image: Mysore Division, South Western Railway.

Image: Mysore Division, South Western Railway.

Image: Mysore Division, South Western Railway.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.