Right To Pee Campaign: Women Loco Pilots In Indian Railways Advocate For Urgent Improvement In Toilet Facilities During Duty Hours

Right To Pee Campaign: Women Loco Pilots In Indian Railways Advocate For Urgent Improvement In Toilet Facilities During Duty Hours

The absence of adequate toilet facilities during duty hours has left loco pilots, especially those operating goods trains, grappling with serious issues, including resorting to the use of sanitary pads.

Kamal MishraUpdated: Saturday, March 09, 2024, 07:39 AM IST
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In the struggle for many basic rights, women loco pilots in the Indian Railways also find themselves at the forefront of the ‘right to pee’ campaign, driven by the FPJ. The absence of adequate toilet facilities during duty hours has left loco pilots, especially those operating goods trains, grappling with serious issues, including resorting to the use of sanitary pads.

Woes faced by loco pilots during long duty hours

“Some use sanitary napkins, others cut down on water intake, and there are those who clamp down on their career dreams to sit in an office instead. Mostly prefer to go on leave rather than face the embarrassment of long hours without access to a toilet,” said Venu Nair, general secretary of one of biggest workers union of central railway. 

Behind the wheels of freight trains, where toilets are non-existent, female drivers endure discomfort and unsafe measures. A female goods train driver revealed resorting to going without water for eight hours to avoid using spots along the tracks. These challenges escalate when they are menstruating, with one assistant pilot highlighting the lack of privacy and suitable conditions to change pads while on duty.

"Many prefer taking leave rather than enduring the discomfort and embarrassment"

Another assistant loco pilot, who drives short-distance goods trains, has to take leave during her period, deeming it insulting as a woman professional. “Many women in this challenging profession prefer taking leave rather than enduring the discomfort and embarrassment,” she said.

Another young woman spoke of her childhood dream – of driving trains, navigating harsh terrains, and testing her skills on the Western Ghat railway line. She qualified to become a train driver, but five years into the job, she spends most of her time sitting in her office, afraid she will embarrass herself if she tries to drive with no toilet in the loco.

Even when freight trains make unscheduled stops, the dire need for a toilet is met with concerns about judgment from male co-drivers and the inherent dangers of disembarking in rural areas at night. Union leaders emphasise the urgency of addressing this issue, noting that freight trains, which lack fixed schedules, often come to halt in remote and unsafe locations. 

Health concerns

Nair said the situation raises concerns about the health and well-being of women in this profession. “We have been urging the authorities to address the pressing need for toilet facilities for women train drivers for many years now,” he added.

“While a lack of restroom facilities affects both men and women, the latter encounter additional challenges, particularly when they are on their period,” said a railway worker on the condition of anonymity. He said that the call for improved infrastructure resonates as a fundamental right for all railway professionals, regardless of gender. “The working conditions must align with the principles of inclusivity and gender equality,” he said.

"More than six years after former railway minister Suresh Prabhu flagged off the first locomotive fitted with a bio-toilet, only a few have been installed,” said Ajay Singh, working president of the Western Railway Mazdoor Sangh. Singh said that Indian Railways has more than 14,000 diesel-electric locomotives. Out of over 60,000 loco pilots on its rolls, more than 1,000 are women; most of them in short-distance goods trains.

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