Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
Many times, I have seen posters and notices in railway premises about security and helpline numbers about being vigilant, about reporting incidents if we notice any suspicious circumstances, unattended child etc. There is a whole unexpected background attached to it, invisible from outside.
A few days ago, I was travelling in a train. Around 8 pm, I noticed a young girl who was alone, without a ticket and looked scared. Other passengers were very curious about her and kept asking her questions, which I overheard from my upper berth. By those conversations, I got to know that she had run away from home because of some abuse that she’d faced from her family. I felt she was very young, immature and needed help and security. The ticket checker passed by but didn’t do anything to assure her security.
I also noticed that she was holding some money. When I asked other passengers they said some stranger in the coach had offered her this money and she took it.
When I spoke to her, she told me her name and she wanted to go to Banaras but didn’t say why. I asked other passengers if any security personnel or any helpline had been contacted. Some said they did not have any such number, others said that she could face more problems if security gets her.
After a few minutes, one man in a police uniform passed by my seat. I informed him about the girl and asked for a child helpline or security contact number. He replied that he will let me know and went away. I waited for him, but he just passed me by after 30 minutes without an answer. So I searched for a security helpline on the internet and dialed the number but didn’t get a response, then I called another one around 9:30 pm and someone picked up the phone and I reported the incident. Then this person asked for my name, number, train details etc and said it will be attended to soon. I waited for security to ensure the girl’s safety, but meanwhile, other passengers started to criticize me and told me not to bring the matter to police or security for sake of family name, and that police will exploit the girl and family etc.
From this, I got to know that the general Indian population is more scared of security personnel than potential criminals. I told them that I believe railway has good rules and a system to handle such situations.
Some passengers told me that they had called the girl’s family and that her father would come to get her. I had two serious concerns. First, the girl was running away from her family, which means something was wrong. Why should we force her to go back there without proper intervention? Secondly, who will ensure her security till her family arrives?
The other passengers started to brainwash the girl and told her to lie to the police or security personnel if they come to her. They told her to say that she is over 18 and had come on her own to meet a relative. They kept telling her that she should endure the abuse and shut her mouth to protect the family name. I didn’t agree to it and said that if the girl is being abused at home she should speak out so that proper action can be taken.
I received a phone call from the railway security informing me that they were sending help at the next station and the girl will be safe till the matter is solved.
Next, at Kanpur station, a group of men and a lady in police uniform asked the girl to go with them. I was happy to know that she would be safe. However, the next minute two men in uniform were shouting at me for complaining. They said that they were responsible for the train’s security, and were being scolded because of me. They said that the girl was not a minor so they didn’t do anything. I asked them how they knew about that. Did they see any ID on her?
They made furious faces and talked rudely. Even the ticket checker was furious at me and came to check my ticket and ID. Probably, he wanted to find some issue that he could use to threaten me. He said, “Why did you complain? Now you also have to deboard the train and go with security and stay there till the matter is over.”
I knew he didn’t have the power to get me off the train, and I did nothing wrong by reporting the incident. I refused so he angrily went away. After the girl left, I tried to get some sleep as it was already 2 am, and I had to go to work the next day.
Suddenly my mobile rang and I saw an unknown number. It was a relative of the girl asking if I was the person who complained. It sounded like a threat.
I asked him how he got my details. He answered by saying that some passenger gave it to him. But I didn’t give details to any passenger on the train. I understood that the railway security personnel leaked my number and compromised my safety.
I filed an online complaint to the railways especially about leaking my personal number to the third party and asked them to take action against the person. But the reply I got was, “Complaint closed- The matter pertains to Govt. Railway Police. There are NGOs at most of the stations who deal with these cases.” That’s all.
This incident made me realize things that are wrong with the society. I also saw that people did not trust railway security system for such cases. Now I also have doubts because they compromised my security and personal details too. I wonder what I should do next time if I see another girl or child like her on a train.