S Gayathri reports for her 10-hour long duty at Coimbatore North Station at 7.50pm sharp, 10 minutes before her shift begins. She briskly walks into the control room to take charge from her colleague, and starts reviewing the trains scheduled to pass through the station over the next three hours. Fifteen minutes later, she starts issuing orders for the green signal for an incoming train from Erode and asks her officials to check on a problem at an intersection almost 1 km away.
Working through the night completely surrounded by men and in a relatively less crowded station, hardly perturbs the 26-year-old, who has been in the service for over two years now. Gayathri is one of the six women station masters in the Salem division. “I realised the extent of male domination in the station master’s category during the training period itself,” says the MBA graduate. “While in my batch there were two women among the 18 trainees, in the next few batches there were hardly any representation of woman,” she says.
Once she steps into her station, she almost forgets her gender. “Luckily, in the case of a station master, there are no superiors or even colleagues at the same rank. At a time, there is only one station master. We only have subordinates, and so far, none of them have disobeyed me or disrespected me because I am a woman,” she says. “When I walk in with the aim of operating the signals efficiently so that timings are maintained, passengers are not inconvenienced and their safety is not compromised,” she says adding, “I am then concerned only about the trains scheduled to pass through or stop in the next 15 minutes which tracks they can use and if they are to be granted a line clearance, besides i there is a need to stop the train due to obstruction,” she says.
The station master says the first few gawks she go when she mentioned her posting were from outside her family circle. “My father was a chief commercial clerk in the Railways and passed away in 2011, a year after his retirement. The same year, I appeared for the railway recruitment exams and cleared it at the very first attempt,” she says. “My family thought I was just taking the baton forward, but were slightly surprised when I opted for a station master’s post instead of getting into the commercial section,” she says.
Gayathri, however, admits that there are some risks involved in the job. “Stations like Irugur and Sulur, where only passenger trains stop, almost bear deserted look at night. There will be a lot of men engaged in loading and unloading activities or drunkards sitting on the platforms. Often, you t have to be accompanied by a subordinate in the dead of the night to check on a problem with an intersection.You just have to take it in your stride and not let fear bog you down,” she says with a smile.