Surekha Yadav- Woman Special

5th Apr, 2017

| by writesolutions

Until a few years ago, Indian women were perceived as quiet and docile, with long braided hair, sari-clad, decked in gold jewelry – who often loved the role of care givers. Yet history testifies that in every generation, one woman has always broken the stereotype, and carved her own, independent niche.

In her canary-yellow sari and gold earrings, with a pair of thin-framed spectacles perched on her nose, Surekha Yadav fits this bill perfectly, until she steps down from her driver’s seat at Mumbai’s main railway station. Driving 45,000 people to work,  Surekha Yadav, is Asia’s first woman motorman, who along with her other male colleagues ply over 60 lakh passengers daily to their respective workplaces in the country’s financial capital.

Point out this gender difference to her and the down-to-earth woman is likely to retort, “It is nothing. Things are not any different because I am a woman.” Regardless of her gender, her job calls for the same traits – patience, concentration, quick decision-making, alertness, discipline and resilience.

Surekha took her diploma in electrical engineering from Karad in Western Maharashtra and has been driving suburban local trains for over a decade now. Before that, she worked as an assistant driver on goods trains covering long distances for another ten years. Mother of two teenagers, she is candid in admitting that she doesn’t know how to drive a two-wheeler or even a four-­wheeler but she draws immense satisfaction from driving a none or 12 ­car rake.

“You have over 4,500 people riding a train and you are responsible for their lives,” she admits.  Emergencies like someone jumping before a speeding train, mechanical failure, or chain pulling can happen anytime but that’s like an occupational hazard with any job. “You can’t simply wait for help. You need to take a decision immediately. Every second is important,” she says.

Breaking the myth that women can’t do strenuous work as men, Surekha Yadav became India’s, to be precise, Asia’s first female train driver almost three decades ago in 1988. She was the first driver of a ‘Ladies Special’ local that the Central Railways introduced in April 2000, when Mamata Banerjee was the Railway Minister. However, her greatest achievement came on 8 March 2011. On International Women’s Day, when drove Deccan Queen from Pune to CST, through a difficult yet scenic topography.

Surprisingly, it was only during her training that she realized that she was a lone ranger. That she had chosen a domain that was until then dominated by men. But once she was selected, she tried to give her best. Today Surekha has the distinction of having driven local suburban trains, ghat trains, goods, as well as, mail express trains.

Like most grounded women, she attributes her success to her family, who sent her to a convent school before she took a diploma in electrical engineering. “In my family, everybody had the chance to follow their dreams. I took advantage of that. I consider myself very lucky,” she explains.

“My mother never insisted I only learn cooking. Study and be bold, she would say,” she reminiscences. Studying in an all-male environment in college also took a toll on her social life. I’ve missed friendship with women for the past 23 years. I feel shy talking with girls now,” she laughs.

The pay scale for women in the Railways, thankfully are on par with the male workers. And how do they react to a woman driver? “Some are jealous. Some are co-operative,” says Yadav. And this is true even of the passengers.

“Sometimes during emergencies people, people react when they discover a woman was at the controls. But I don’t lose my cool. Very often the mob calms down after a while of reasoning,” she adds.

As a safety measure however she has worked out a strategy. “I shut all the doors; remain alert and try and think what best can be done. ‘Rasta Roko’ agitators or ruffians who try to damage trains should fight it out with the administration. There is no point in attacking us. As a driver, my mind is on passenger safety and timely arrivals,” she insists.

Surekha 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 an inspiration as they can get.


Radhika Sachdev

Content Strategist

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