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'Matunga, a station for women empowerment'

Thursday, February 01, 2018
Photographs by Azad Shrivastav

Mamta Kulkarni, the first female Station Superintendent in Mumbai talks about her journey, her dreams and women empowerment. The Matunga railway station in Mumbai has been defying the general stereotype and is setting a benchmark. Being Mumbai's only fully female run railway station, it has not just broken the glass ceiling, but has proven to be a station for woman empowerment since the past six months.

Manjiri Chitre and Sarthak Jain trained their questions on Station Superintendent Mamta Kulkarni, to know how her dreams of women empowerment fructified and what really happens at Matunga Station

Sitting in a crisp white shirt and a pant, with a 'Central Railways' engraved red tie around her neck, the first female superintendent talked about her journey in the railways. “I started my career in Railways in 1992.  My first appointment was in Kurla Station as an assistant station master. I was the only female working during the communal riots in 1992 and was on an evening to night shift. I was not so familiar with all the negative aspects of Railways, but since it was the start of my career, with all the enthusiasm in me, I managed to handle the situation well”, Kulkarni said.

She further added proudly, “The communal riots  taught me a lot and was the real start to my career in railways. After the riots phase, I came across many negative incidents. Even during my pregnancy, I was working full time. I have dealt with the difficulties to the best of my abilities and now I am entirely confident to face any challenge that comes my way.”

Speaking about the early days and her career goals, “I was always fascinated by Railways but did not specifically aim to work here. I took various exams and was selected for Banking and Railways. I did not know much about Railways sector initially. So, I inquired about this field, during which I was cautioned about it being a male-dominated sector, but I was willing to take my chance.  I gave my exams and interviews, just to know that I have been selected as a Station Superintendent”, she chuckled.

Being the only woman in a 'male-dominated' field, Kulkarni has faced a lot of prejudice in her initial days. “When I started my career, I came across a lot of difficulties. For example, at the occurrences of human accidents at the Railways, the coolies who picked up the dead bodies, did not approach me since I was a female and they were all men. Coming to sanitation of the station and platforms, we would previously ask the people to come and help us out but now however we have been able to put a system in place for that”, said the doughty lady.

Where there are difficulties, discerning people tend to overcome them, and so did Kulkarni. “As a manager it is entirely my duty to solve all problems that my station would face. None of these problems are ones that other stations do not face. With the help of my team, we managed to overcome them”, she said, beaming.

Talking about the family and the support she received from them, Kulkarni claimed that her father has been the greatest inspiration in her life. Having a family, made everything different, however the 47-year-old woman set a stellar example. “As I have two young children to take care of, it has been pretty difficult to balance  everything. However, my husband and my mother-in-law have been very supportive and have helped me overcome any obstacles that came my way, both, personally and professionally,” claimed Kulkarni.

Kulkarni has a tough daily schedule to live by. She wakes up as early as 4.30 in the morning and sleeps not before 12  after managing all her professional and personal duties, which leaves her with a very minimal social life.  

Being a male-dominated sector, patriarchy was meant to make its way in her path. However, when asked about it, she said, “Unlike a few years back, people today are much more liberal and modern in their thinking and women are given an equal opportunities in most cases. However, there are people who still do not believe in equality but I feel that is largely down to the fact that they are not as well educated or belong to the backward class. This also is something that shall resolve with proper education and I strongly hope it does, because if the country really has to progress, it is essential that men and women are on an equal platform.”

Speaking about the role of men in women empowerment, she with a tinge of pride said, “Men have been playing an important role in Women Empowerment, and I appreciate them for that. The Narendra Modi Government, Our GM sir, officers in different departments of Railways have all been playing an important role in this.
Even the ordinary citizens plays a crucial role in this. For example, the residents of Matunga felicitated us some time back for the work that we do and often help us in difficult situations. This makes us feel good and motivates us do even better.”

The Prime Minister, on Sunday, mentioned Matunga station's all women workforce during 'Mann Ki Baat'. “I had no idea about it initially as I was working at that time, but when I got to hear it, it felt surreal. Especially as Matunga has become a station for women empowerment”, Kulkarni enthused. She further claimed that when the staff heard about it, they were ecstatic and this has only motivated them to raise their standards even further.

Lastly, when asked what message Mumbai's first lady station superintendent had for other aspiring women, she said, “Try to always do better than what you had previously done. Men and women are equal and there is really no differentiation between the two.  So my message to other women is to always push yourself and look to set benchmarks that others look to better.”

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