Thousands of people travel by the local trains in Mumbai each day. Most of them do so, to commute to their place of work. However, some of them do so, only to harass the women passengers, who stand on the station waiting for their train to arrive. “For the 1st time I watched the sight of men making obscene comments at women, standing on bogeys’ window grills and even rooftop and making weird sounds, I was shocked! Shocked to see how easily they were molesting women, as they even used to touch them wrongly when the train was passing out of the platform. No one took a stand against them,” says Dipesh Tank, an activist who volunteers for safe travel in trains. 33 year old Dipesh got disturbed upon seeing youngsters standing inclined outwards from a train and making lewd gestures at women, who were standing at Malad station’s platform, in 2013. It was a usual sight on almost every station.
The railway police had their own set of excuses for not acting on these hooligans, such as “the case doesn’t fall in our jurisdictional area”, “we can act only if those women file a complaint”, “we can lodge a complaint, but how will we find these people?” etc. He says “I tried filing a complaint once, but spent hours waiting and being tossed between different police stations. Police did nothing, saying victims should file complaint.” But he had made his mind to do something more than just blaming GRP and RPF. Dipesh did a survey on safety of women at Malad station, and results were not good. 84 percent women claimed they faced molestation every day, being groped on platform as well as inside trains. 78 percent said they never saw any police action. To deal with the issue he made an association known as ‘War Against Railway Rowdies’ (WARR). WARR volunteers started helping the railway police officials to catch molesters by making video recordings of their acts. The effort was an innovative one.
Dipesh himself says, “Yes, we need more police personnel at stations and on trains, but it’s unfair to blame them alone. For things to change drastically, citizens need to be more proactive”. It was only after Dipesh’s initiatives, that volunteers along with railway policemen in mufti observed Goregaon and Malad stations during peak rush. A team watched the hidden camera’s recording, and swiftly passed on the illustrations of rowdies on trains to the second team on next station, who’d then arrest all of them. The GRP and RPF have been able to get hold of more than 150 ruffians by now. Responsible authorities have also become more aware regarding safety of women travellers and are observing many more stations by monitoring the camera recordings. Ladies’ compartments in the train also got cameras installed inside them.
Though, Dipesh is not satisfied yet. He says, “Things have definitely changed in the past one year. Some safety measures are in place and patrolling at stations has improved, but poor prosecution rate is still a matter of great concern. Most of the men caught are released.” He has bought costly sunglasses which have an in-built spy camera to record molesters, and sends the recordings directly to officers, for them to understand gravity of the situation. Dipesh himself records videos on stations of Western, Main and Harbour Lines, for 2 hours daily. He says, “No arrangements were in place, to counter hoodlums on Mumbai’s lifeline. We reached out to the National Commission for Women, the railway commissioner and the railway minister, showed them our data and asked for new safety procedures. The commission took a note of our appeal and asked rail authorities to take immediate corrective steps.”
However, Dipesh also blames co-passengers for not opposing these kind of hooligans or simply contact the authorities when they sexually harass women or do hazardous acts, as he saw them doing it at Dadar station lately. “The society must stand up and everyone should promise to themselves, that we will face them instead of becoming helpless onlookers.” We at The Youth, commend Dipesh Tank for his efforts. Not all heroes wear capes, some of them wear shades with spy cam, as he does, and force authorities to act against sexual harassment of women at railway stations and trains, making them safer altogether.