A day in the life of a trackman with Indian Railways

Trackman12-hr shift with 18-kg weight, a risk of getting killed, Bhola is a trackman since the age of 17.

12-hr shift with 18-kg weight, and constant risk of getting killed. But even as 13 lakh Railway employees like him contemplate a strike, trackman Bhola says the fact that he can be replaced anytime weighs him down

One would have thought that trudging along a railway track each day, with trains whizzing past, and carrying heavy equipment would have taken its toll after 34 years of service. But for Bhola Pal, 51, hard work is a part of life. Without it, he says, "I wouldn't know what to do."

A trackman with the Railways since the age of 17, Bhola insists that people only use his first name as that is how he registered himself when he came to Delhi from Unnao in 1989, searching for a job.

Bhola's two-bedroom home is in a Railway compound near Mandawali Chander Vihar station. Built in 1972, it is where 25 families of trackmen, mates and keymen live, with an attractive plus: lot of space for children to play.

Trackmen used to be known as gangmen till the Railway Union changed it because of the negative connotations attached to the word 'gang'. They work all day — be it under the scorching sun or in numbing cold — to ensure that trains run smoothly, getting paid Rs 15,000-18,000 a month.

A recent Indian Express report found that "a railway employee dies in the line of duty on four days out of five, making his job statistically far more dangerous than that of security forces in some of India's most violent combat zones". An average 300 railwaymen have been killed in accidents every year over the past four-five years. Most were run over by trains as they patrolled the tracks. Their safety was in the news recently after four trackmen were mowed down in Mumbai on Diwali.

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