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Rail safety for women

Two chilling murders within 24 hours on just one rail route has laid bare the utter insecurity in which women passengers undertake train journeys in Assam. In the first incident on Tuesday, the body of a BSc fourth semester student of College of Agriculture, AAU, was found inside a toilet of Dibrugarh-Rangiya Express when it halted at Simoluguri railway station. She had boarded the train at Sivasagar from where it takes barely 15 minutes to reach Simoluguri; reportedly, she had mistakenly gotten onto the compartment for the differently-abled where her mother recalls a lone male was sitting. On Wednesday, the body of a 45-year old woman was recovered from a toilet of Avadh Assam Express at Mariani station; she had been travelling in the compartment for differently-abled after boarding the train at Dibrugarh. Both had been strangled to death with injuries inflicted on their bodies — the near identical killings have triggered speculation there could be a serial murderer prowling the tracks, targeting women in compartments for the differently-abled. Could it be because such passengers are perceived as more vulnerable, or that these compartments are usually less cared for? It is up to investigators to find out the modus operandi and nab the killer(s) at the earliest, for the murders have spooked passengers no end. There are frequent complaints of miscreants targeting ladies compartments and decamping with impunity. Government railway police (GRP) personnel, responsible for policing the trains, hardly inspire confidence among passengers here. Rarely do they appear in coaches, and on occasions they deign to do so, they vanish after some desultory pokes at baggage. Rail passengers are mostly left to fend for themselves, particularly on less frequented routes in Upper Assam. CCTV coverage at stations is non-existent at worst or rudimentary at best, leaving little scope for capturing visuals of offenders or suspects. Many railway stations are infested with vagrants, smack addicts and thieves; rail routes are often taken by drug transporters, gold smugglers and child traffickers. Jurisdictional problems between GRP and Assam Police often arise over crimes committed in trains or on tracks, thereby hampering investigation. Ironically, this double murder has come in early 2018-19, designated by the Railways as the year for safety of women passengers. Rail Bhawan has planned to put differently coloured (likely pink) ladies coaches at the centre of trains so that these coaches are easily identifiable and better lighted; to prevent miscreants from entering these coaches, the windows would be covered with wire meshes; CCTV cameras would be installed in such coaches and women passengers will be encouraged to use mobile apps and press panic buttons in case of danger; women police personnel will be deployed on trains and stations at night hours. These plans look fine on paper, the trick is to implement these forcefully on the ground. It is up to Rajen Gohain, Minister of State for Railways, to ensure that this is indeed done in his home State.

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