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The whistles of danger that must be heard

The whistles of danger that must be heard

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Soumya, who was brutally killed ten years ago during a train journey, is still a wound in the conscience of the people of Kerala. She fell victim to a ruthless assailant on her way home at night after work when left alone in a passenger coach. The public complained about the inadequacy of women's safety on trains. Numerous solutions were suggested from various quarters. Protests erupted, demanding legislation to ensure the safety of women on trains. Authorities, alarmed by the public outcry, promised immediate action. But it all died down. That is why Asha, a young woman from Mulanthuruthi, Kerala again, had to face a tragedy similar to the gruesome, a similar tragedy, a decade later in broad daylight aboard the Guruvayur-Punalur passenger.

According to the police, the assailant, who was in another coach, boarded the same compartment as that of Asha, who boards the same train regularly from Mulanthuruthi, Kochi to her workplace in Chengannur, and shut the door. As the vehicle sped, he snatched her mobile phone and jewellery. The young woman jumped out of fear for her life.

Of the 2.3 crore people who travel by train in the country every day, 46 lakh are women. In the last five years, the Railway helpline numbers received more than 40 lakh complaints related to crimes against women. Following this, the Ministry of Railways took cognisance of the matter and sought a detailed solution. Finally, on March 20, the ministry issued detailed guidelines to prevent crimes against women on trains and railway premises. If implemented, these measures can ensure safety on railways.

Sufficient lighting must be assured in parking areas, platform edges, yards, and washing lines; the duty officer must periodically check waiting rooms; unauthorised persons roaming the premises must be prosecuted; anti-social elements and beggars frequenting railway station, yards, and trains must be prevented; unauthorised entrances and exits to platforms must be sealed; CCTV cameras must be installed in women's coaches for security surveillance; a database of sexual offenders residing near railway premises must be stored; those consuming liquor on trains and railway stations must be punished: the complaints of several passengers, and not just women, would be significantly reduced if such measures are implemented.

Another woman was attacked in Kerala merely a month after the release of the Railways' new safety norms and schemes. At the time of issuing the order, RPF (Railway Protection Force) Director-General Arun Kumar said that the recent increase in crimes against women (including rape) on trains and railway premises was alarming. All the Principal Chief Security Commissioners of the Zonal Railways were directed to implement the new directives expeditiously and effectively from early April. However, crimes against women show no signs of declining.

Asha would not have suffered this fate if the earlier suggestion that all trains should have interconnected coaches via vestibules had been properly implemented. If the order to ensure police security in women coaches had been effective, the attacker would not have dared to even get inside. What we need now are not guidelines restricted that rest in paper but effective systems and officials who enforce them. One could hope that these crimes are not repeated. In these wretched times, one could only wish.

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