Indian Female Engine Loco Drivers

Read the stories of the Female Engine Drivers of India….

Surekha Yadav – The first Indian Woman train driver of passenger train.

Surekha Yadav at the controls.In her canary-yellow sari and gold earrings, with a pair of thin-framed spectacles perched on her nose, Surekha Yadav could be any woman stepping down from the train at Mumbai’s main railway station.

But the 44-year-old mother-of-two stands out from the crowds on the platforms at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) as she doesn’t just travel on the trains – she drives them.

Yadav was the first female passenger train driver on Mumbai’s Central Railways and has become a standard-bearer for women in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Since she first jumped into the cab of Mumbai’s packed commuter trains 10 years ago – attracting curious looks from commuters – one other “motorwoman” now plies the same suburban route. Two are assistant drivers.

There are also women train drivers on the Western Railway network, ferrying many of the 6 million people who use the city’s overstretched network every day.

Yadav, who admitted having no interest in trains before applying for a job as an assistant goods train driver in 1989, said she has had nothing but support from her male colleagues.

Motorwoman drives equality in India

“They encouraged, helped and took care of me,” she said, adding she had taken special training to become the first woman driver of a “ghat loco”, the two-engined passenger trains that climb the hills of western Maharashtra state. “Because I was the only woman, they were curious whether I could do it or not,” she said.

Women like Yadav can be found throughout Indian history, from warrior queens like Rani Lakshmibai and members of the independence movement to the first – and so far, only – female prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

But although India’s constitution “guarantees to all Indian women equality”, differences between the sexes still exist, particularly in rural areas, in terms of access to education, health care and even food.

Over a third of Indian women aged 15 to 49 said they had experienced domestic violence, according to a 2007 National Family Health Survey. Overall violence against women increased by nearly 25 percent between 2003 and 2007, the latest available government statistics show. The highest rises – more than 30 percent – were recorded for kidnap, abduction and torture.

Madhu Purnima Kishwar, of New Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and founder of leading rights group Manushi Sangathan, said that in the workplace gender was no bar to success – provided women were strong. “In India, women who demonstrate that they are stronger than men usually find men falling at their feet,” she said, linking it to the worship of Hindu goddesses and the importance of mothers in Indian society.

Apart from being India’s first “motorwoman”, Yadav has also been part of the attempt to curb another problem: complaints about sexual harassment – or “eve-teasing” as it is known in India.

Rail minister Mamata Banerjee introduced “Ladies Specials” trains in India’s four largest cities this year to improve safety for female commuters, whose numbers are increasing as more urban women forge careers outside the home.

Yadav drove the first service into CST.

She is positive about her job and the opportunities it has given her, attributing her determination to succeed to her family, who sent her to convent school before she took a diploma in electrical engineering.

“Everybody was given the chance to chase their own dream. Whatever they wanted to do. We had freedom for education. We took advantage of that. We were very lucky to get that,” she explained. “(My mother) never said being a girl child you should do cooking. You should study first then we will see. You need to be bold.”

Nevertheless, Yadav – who cites as influences Indira Gandhi and Lakshmibai, the 19th century heroine of Indian resistance against the British – admits it has still been tough. The job is physically demanding and time consuming, giving her less time to spend with her two teenaged sons and police officer husband.

Working in an all-male environment since college has also taken its toll on her social life, she said. “I miss the friendship with women for the last 23 years. I feel shy talking with girls now,” she said.

Yadav works for 10 hours every day and she was one of the 10 women, felicitated recently by the Delhi-based National Women’s Council for her outstanding service.

Yadav has been working with the Central Railways for the last eight years. Recently she was promoted from assistant driver to motorman for local suburban trains. Amongst the four women who were selected for the job, she is the only one who has continued in it.

The pay scales for women, according to Yadav, are on par with the male workers. And how do the male workers react to a woman driver? “Some are jealous. Some are co-operative,” says Yadav. And this is true even of the passengers. “Sometimes during emer gencies people discover that there is a woman driver. I don’t lose my cool. And if the mob is angry it generally calms down a bit when it spots a woman driver at the controls,” she adds.

But to be safe in such situations, Yadav has worked out a strategy. Says she, “I close all the doors, remain alert for any attacks and try and think on my feet. The people who do rasta rokos or try to damage trains should fight it out with the administr ation. There is no point in attacking trains. They should have the right attitude and approach. As a driver, my mind is on passenger safety and timely arrivals.”

Yadav may be a small cog in the wheel of the suburban railway network in Mumbai that transports roughly 14 million passengers across the metropolis during peak hours, but for millions of other women who want to work and earn, she is as good a role model as they can get.

Laxmi Lakra – India’s second woman to make the post in India and First woman engine driver with Northern Railways.

From a poor, tribal family in village Dela Doli Kokar near Ranchi in Jharkhand to becoming a woman engine driver – Laxmi Lakra, 27, has come a long way. And for this petite, spirited young woman, even the journey was exciting. Laxmi is the second woman to make the post in India; Surekha Yadav from Mumbai was the first, joining Central Railways in 1992. Laxmi, though, is the first woman engine driver with Northern Railways.

Surekha Yadav from Mumbai“I’ve always competed with men,” says this petite but steely woman. “I love challenges and the moment somebody says this is ‘not for the girls’, I make sure I go ahead and do it!” Laxmi, who was selected for this coveted post after clearing the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) test last year, credits her parents – both construction laborers in Jharkhand – with her success.

“My parents are illiterate, but they never discriminated between the boys and girls of the family. My two brothers and my sister had the freedom to choose their careers.” Laxmi says that her father did not mind if the children did not eat for a day, but was most upset if they skipped school! “God’s gift” is how she describes her parents’ awareness of the importance of education.

Currently, one of Laxmi’s brothers is in the US on a scholarship, while her sister is a first-class graduate. All the children took tuition classes in their spare time to earn extra bucks and finance their own education. Laxmi would even help run the house – filling in grocery, getting house repairs done, buying school uniforms for her younger sister – while her parents slogged extra hours to keep the wolf from the door.

However, despite these rigors of her early life, Laxmi had an innate sense of fun and adventure. And in between those bouts of mundane household chores and studying, she would borrow scooters and motorbikes from her co-students at the polytechnic institute she studied in. On these, she would go for spins around her village with her sister. “The other village girls would be aghast at my ‘audacity’. But my logic was simple – as long as I was having fun without harming anybody, doing well in my studies and helping my parents, why should I not lead a lifestyle of my own choice?”

Laxmi’s somewhat unconventional journey began at a government school in Jharkhand, where she was always considered a ‘bright child’. One of the very few girl students in her school, she was always considered ‘one of the boys’. After her senior secondary school, Laxmi secured a diploma in electronics (again considered a ‘boy’s subject’) from the Women’s Polytechnic in Ranchi.

And just when she was deciding on her future course of action came the railway exam, which she cleared in her first attempt. In fact, Laxmi was the only woman in her batch of 372 trainees. She was then packed off for a nine-month training course, which included training on electric engines in Ghaziabad, diesel engines in Tughlakabad and goods engines in Chandausi, Moradabad.

Laxmi’s current job – which gives her a “king’s salary” of Rs 11,000 (1US$=Rs 45) per month (this is of 2006 payscale) – is “highly satisfying”, she says. She does an eight to 10-hour shift each day, shuttling goods and passenger trains engines in and around Delhi. “Of course, it is not easy,” she admits, laughing. “The noise, the pollution, the constant shuttling do get to me occasionally. But then this is the life I’ve chosen. And I’m proud of it.”

Indian Railways is an equal opportunities employer, Laxmi asserts. She also says that her male colleagues have been “most cooperative”. She hasn’t faced discrimination or distress based on her gender.

Laxmi’s ultimate dream, however, is to pilot the Shatabdi Rajdhani. “It’s a super-fast train, and it will be an honor to run that,” she says.

And what about settling down, now that she’s pushing 30? “Well, my parents are keen that I marry soon, but I have to choose someone who can understand my choices in life and respect me for what I am. Having led such an independent life so far, I can’t spend the rest of my life with someone regressive,” she concludes.

In the meantime, an engine trundles in, whistling at New Delhi’s Shakurbasti Railway Station. And it’s duty time for Laxmi. She dons her cap, tidies up her smart blue uniform and is off in a trice…

Samta Kumari – India’s Fifth woman loco pilot and First Woman Driver of Gorakhpur

The Railway Recruitment Board, Gorakhpur, has selected first women loco pilot on Monday. Samta Kumari is the fifth women loco pilot all across the India appointed by the Railways.

Samta Kumari, a residence of Bihar, said that she always dreamed to become a train driver and she finally did it. She wanted to pave the way for others to enter the male-dominated job.

Samta Kumari, Lucknow division’s first, and India s fifth woman train driver started her debut drive from Lucknow-Gonda Passenger (train number 592) on 14 July 2010. She will now assist Gyanendra Dixit, the Main Pilot of the Lucknow Gonda Passenger Train Number 592. She also promised to do her duty with full honest and commitment. She also promised to do her duty with full honest and commitment.

Samta Kumari, Lucknow division s first, and India s fifth woman train driverFor the residents from nondescript places between Lucknow and Gonda, Samta Kumari is the reigning star. Villagers flock to halts and railway stations for a glimpse of this 28- year- old woman engine driver, the first in the Lucknow division and the fifth in the country.

But Samta’s fan base is giving their idol cause for concern.

”People try to jump near the engine to see me through the window. There are also a large number of passengers who rush towards the engine whenever the train stops. I want to appeal to these people to be careful about their safety and take me as any other driver. I am no one extraordinary,” she said.

”Two days ago, I was the assistant loco pilot on the 592 Lucknow- Gonda Passenger from Charbagh Railway station in Lucknow to Gonda. That day, I had only one thought – I should work hard and one day get the opportunity to drive the Rajdhani Express between Kashmir and Kanyakumari,” she added.

The third among four sisters and a brother, she was offered a railway job on compassionate grounds after her father Keshav Bihari, a railway employee, passed away in 2005. But she turned it down.

The feisty woman had said: ”I don’t want any sympathy. I wanted to be a pilot. But when I came to know that Surekha Yadav, Mumtaz Khan, Sunita Naik and Richa Patel had already become train drivers; I joined the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and decided to try my luck. I appeared in the Railway Recruitment Board Examination and cleared it without much difficulty.

”Trains are not new to me. I have grown up and played around them because my father used to be posted at railway stations in Bihar.” Her elder sisters Alka and Arti are municipal councillors in Khagaul in Danapur, while her younger sister Mamta and brother Prabhakar are looking for a job.

But the hand that operates the locomotive’s levers also loves wielding the paintbrush. Water colours are her favourite.

”My mother Dayawanti Devi is very proud of me. She wants me to work hard as a train driver as well as devote time for my hobby,” Samta said.

But how does she cope with all this? ”Whenever in despair, I remember Indira Gandhi, who was a woman of conviction and strength. She inspires me to follow my heart,” Samta said.

C.V.Thilagavathi – Southern Railway’s first woman EMU motorcar driver

For the first time in the history of Southern Railway a woman has been posted as motorcar driver of an EMU. C.V.Thilagavathi operates EMU services in the Chennai suburban network, except on Chennai Beach – Tambaram section.

She joined as Assistant Driver in the Indian Railways in 1995. According to the 37-year-old Thilagavathi, she did not know that the job would involve operation of locomotives when she applied for the post of diesel assistant. Only after the selection, she came to know that she had to assist loco drivers in operating mail and express trains. Though she was little bit hesitant, it was her father who asked her to take up the post as it would be a challenging one.

C.V.Thilagavathi, Southern Railway's first woman EMU motorcar driver, on duty. Photo : R RavindranAfter working as assistant driver for four years in long distance mail and express trains in Bhopal, Central Railway, she was transferred to Southern Railway in 1999. Thilagavathi who was posted in Chennai Division was soon promoted as the main driver of goods trains. Subsequently, she was given two months training in the working of EMU services and one month course in general rules of suburban operation.

December 16, 2009, was a memorable day for Thilagavathi as on that day she was asked to operate the Moore Market Complex – Tiruvallur EMU service. “I was not at all nervous when I was asked to operate the EMU for the first time. I operated the service with ease and reached the destination in time.”

Talking to The Hindu, Ms.Thilagavathi said “It is just like any other job and my colleagues cooperate with me like in other professions.” Asked about the reaction of passengers when they saw her in the motor cabin, she said some looked at her with surprise. Some women commuters shook hands with her after she got down from the car. A senior citizen commented that he was happy to see a woman driving an EMU and congratulated her for taking up the job.

If everything goes on well, Ms. Thilagavathi will get promotion as mail and express loco driver.

[IRFCA] Indian Railways FAQ

Q. Women in IR: Does IR have women in operational positions, as drivers, signal staff, etc.? Are there women porters? Are there women stationmasters?

Yes, of course. Although the overwhelming majority of drivers of locomotives and EMUs are men, in recent years a few women have become drivers.

  • Since the mid-1980s or so, there have been a few women drivers and assistant drivers of goods and passenger locomotives (Nagpur, Waltair, Kharagpur, Adra, etc.), and several who pilot shunters.
  • Kalyan has a woman WCG-2 driver
  • For EMUs, Ms Surekha Yadav made headlines as the first woman to drive an EMU in the Mumbai system in 2001 (it was a Dombivli local to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai). She started as a goods and shunter driver in 1986.
  • There are many women who work in other operational positions, as station staff, signal staff, and so on. Curiously, women stationmasters are rare and found only in suburban sections of SR.
  • In the non-operational roles (administration, management, etc.) there are plenty of women employed by IR — it’s not rare at all.
  • Women porters are quite rare. Wankaner is one station which is said to have had many women porters in the 1980s. (Situation today is unclear.)
  • Margoa is another station where there are said to be (or to have been) some women porters.
  • Women have always been present in significant numbers alongside men in other occupations involving manual labour, however, including construction activities and such.
  • In steam days, there were many women employed in the manual coaling of steam locomotives.
  • In 1990 Surekha Bhonsle (now Surekha Yadav) joins IR – she later became the first woman locomotive driver on IR.
  • In May 1992: Churchgate-Virar Ladies’ Special is the first IR train reserved exclusively for women.
  • In June 2000, all-women ‘Tejaswini’ squads of ticket-checkers and police officers introduced for Mumbai suburban services.
  • In March 2008: Hajipur railway station of ECR in Bihar becomes the first one to be staffed entirely by women.

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3 Responses to "Indian Female Engine Loco Drivers"

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