It is no mystery that public transport in India isn’t safe for women. News reports of sexual assault, eve teasing and harassment are rampant. Different administrations at the local level had attempted to tackle the issue in different ways, from increasing reservation of seats for women in buses to additional security personnel on patrol and enhanced usage of CCTV cameras. However, one institution is looking at the problem rather differently.
The Central Railway is looking to leverage the power of technology for better women’s safety. The service is called “Smart Sahelee”, and would involve volunteers, Railway Protection Force (RPF) officers and a live monitoring of minute-to-minute complaints for immediate redressal. On Tuesday, the Central Railways said that it would create WhatsApp groups for its 1,774 local train trips and each group would have four daily commuters as volunteers along with a dedicated RPF officer as its members. These will be connected to a central monitoring system at the headquarters. In addition, 21 stations have been identified on the suburban network that will have Station Sahelee groups consisting of 15 regular women commuters of that station and 2 RPF station staff.
Each volunteer will be called a “Service Sahelee”. Thirty-one Service Sahelees would form a Sector Sahelee, and there would be 59 such sector groups to cover all 1,774 trains. Each Sector Sahelee will have one WhatsApp group with 127 members, 124 volunteers (four from each of 31 Service Sahelees), a woman RPF officer as force mentor, a woman constable as Assistant Mentor and Passenger Mentor. The passenger mentor would preferably be a representative from a NGO or the Railways Users Committee.
The exercise has set an ambitious goal of eliminating all crimes against women. “The holistic security net covering all 1,774 suburban services eventually aims to achieve zero crime against women and establish a two-way communication with women commuters," RPF Senior Divisional Commissioner K K Ashraf said, as reported by Mid Day. He pointed out that volunteers would interact with passengers and take feedback on matters related to women security, and bring it to the notice of the monitoring and response team.
“Smart Sahelee” service involves volunteers, Railway Protection Force (RPF) officers and a live monitoring of minute-to-minute complaints for immediate redressal.
“All these groups regularly interact with lady passengers and Service Sahelees. Keep observing activities/matters affecting women security, suggest ways and means to improve security, propagate the facility of 182 RPF helpline amongst the commuters. The R&M team will ensure timely and prompt response to the complaints/grievances of women passengers,” Ashraf added.
A recent RTI query revealed that over 160 rape cases have been reported on railway premises and on board running trains between 2017 and 2019. Of the 44 rapes reported last year, 36 were committed on railway premises and eight on trains. 1,672 crimes against women other than rapes have been reported, 802 on railway premises and 870 on trains. During 2018 and 2019, a total of 1,39,422 and 1,14,170 male passengers respectively have been prosecuted for unauthorised entry or travel in compartments reserved for women passengers.
With Smart Sahelee the attempt by the Central Railways to co-opt women into their safety programme and make it a two-way communication channel, while using the power of technology could help turn the tide against rising crimes on women on trains and on platforms. Coupled with other measures announced like IP-video based surveillance and CCTV cameras, it could well set a domestic example on how to tackle the issue with help from daily commuters.
The CR initiative is not an isolated one. Even women travelling by Uber and Ola will now be provided with an option of travelling with female commuters alone while cab-pooling. And while these measures might not be foolproof, they need to be applauded. It’s time we think of putting women’s safety first.