Sunday, June 15, 2008

There’s no such thing as a free ride!

Women Travelling Ticket Examiners face resistance from travellers and an occasional sexist remark as they go about their jobs

By Shevlin Sebastian

It is raining in torrents at Ernakulam South station on a Monday morning, but that does not deter Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) Ann Mary Sydna D’Cruze, 36.

She jumps into a sleeper bogie of the 6041 Chennai-Alleppey Express and starts checking tickets. The men passengers look with surprise because she is a woman, but they comply silently.

Ann zips through each compartment, checking, signing and returning the ticket, all in one smooth movement. For a couple of male passengers who are sleeping on the upper bunks, she prods them with the tip of her pen. So far, everybody has tickets.

She goes into the next bogie: all is legal. Then the next bogie: no ticket-less travelers. In the fourth bogie, she turns to her boss, M.A. Varghese, chief ticket inspector, anti-fraud squad, who is accompanying her, and says, “Sir, we will have to move on to another train.”

He nods and they get down at a sleepy station, Turavur, and jump into the 334 Kayamkulam-Ernakulam Passenger, which is going to Ernakulam. And, immediately, Ann strikes gold.

“I was late,” says Nancy Thomas, 42. “So, I had no option but to rush into the train at Mararikulam without a ticket. But I have just told my son to buy a ticket for me.” Ann says, “I am sorry but you have to pay a fine of Rs 270.”

Nancy enlarges her eyes in shock and says, “Why are you harassing me? Don’t you have a mother or sisters? Why can’t you show some consideration?”

Ann is unfazed. “How much money do you have?”

Nancy opens her purse and shows a Rs 20 and a Rs 10 note. Varghese says, “Please deposit the money tomorrow at our office at Ernakulam South, otherwise, you will be prosecuted.”

Meanwhile, Ann opens a pad called the ‘statement of understanding’ and asks for the address and telephone numbers. But Nancy is suffering from amnesia. “I don’t know the pin-code,” she says. “We don’t have a phone at home.”

Ann says in a polite but determined voice, “If you don’t give me the proper details or pay the fine, you can be jailed.” Finally, Nancy’s resistance crumbles and she supplies the correct information.

Later, Ann says, “I am sure her son is not on the train. She may have been traveling ticket-less for a long time but, today, her luck has run out.”

In the next bogie, Joy George’s luck has also run out. “My friend, Prasad, has my ticket,” he says to Ann. But Prasad, who is sitting a few seats away, has only one ticket.

Varghese asks the 18-year-old, who is wearing a skin-tight T-shirt and a steel necklace, to pay up. Joy takes out a ten rupee note and says, “That’s all I have.”

By this time, a small crowd of curious passengers gathers around. Varghese tells Joy about the problems he will face if he does not pay the fine.

Prasad suddenly says, “We will pay,” and proffers a Rs 100 note to Varghese, a clear bribe. But the chief inspector brushes his hand away and says, with an unflinching gaze, “The amount is Rs 270.”

Prasad and Joy exchange glances. Then, reluctantly, Joy takes out a purse from his trouser pocket and pulls out Rs 100, while Prasad gives Rs 200 and the fine is paid.

It is a good day for Ann. She catches six ticket-less travelers in three bogies, but two of them -- Rajeev Menon and Sailesh Yadav -- are caught, just as the train reaches Ernakulam South station. So, they accompany her to the TTEs room, which is near the entrance.

Inside, there are several other TTEs sitting around and there is loud banter and laughter. A peon brings several cups of coffee and biscuits. As Ann notes down Rajeev’s address, he says sheepishly, “I forget to carry my season ticket today.” Ann tells him to pay the fine the next day.

Sailesh, from Patna, who works as a foreman in a construction firm, deposits Rs 240 and says he will pay the remaining amount the next day. They leave and Ann sighs, as she sips her coffee. After a brief rest, she will set out again.

During the eight-hour shift, she gets in and out of four trains. And on most days, she gets an average of two passengers per train. But she is glad she did not get an extreme reaction from passengers, like what happened to her colleague, Bindu Mathew, recently.

One morning, Bindu, 32, is checking tickets on the Island Express. Through the corner of her eye, she notices a young man -- who is sitting with a group of nursing students from Bangalore -- move towards the door. In one swift movement he jumps off and lands on the gravel and rolls for a while. When he gets up, there is blood on his face and hands. “Thankfully, the train is not going fast,” says Bindu.

Later, the nursing students tell her that the youth had boasted to the girls that he is a successful businessman from Bangalore. “So, probably, faced with the embarrassment of being exposed as a ticket-less traveler, he had taken this extreme step,” she says. “Many passengers do this.”

Apart from the men, there are several ticket-less travellers in the ladies’ bogie. “Most women feel there will be no checking,” says Bindu’s colleague, S. Sreedevi. “However, once they are caught, the majority pay up quickly.”

Several TTEs say they rarely face any problems from ordinary people; instead, they face stiff resistance from the educated and affluent people. “They want to wear us down by arguing and by hinting that we may be pocketing the fine,” says Jiji Balan.

Others who don’t pay are college students. “Most of the time, they only carry an ATM card,” says Ann. So, at the next major station, the TTE will get down with the youngsters, so that they can withdraw the money from the ATM.

If they do not have an ATM card, the youth will have to go home or to one of their relative’s house and get the money. “We lose one or two hours waiting for these passengers,” says Ann.

Like in any job, they also encounter problems. “There is eve teasing,” admits Bindu. “Sometimes, a man will make a suggestive comment, but I ignore it. If I try to make a hullabaloo, the other passengers will hear about it and it is not worth the trouble. Secondly, I will be wasting time.”

Time-management is important to these women who have to handle the hassles of managing a home and a career. Surprisingly, they also face problems from the weather. “The rainy season is the most difficult,” says Jiji. “Because, despite having an umbrella, we always get wet, when we go from the reserved to the general compartment, and when we cross platforms, to get into another train.”

Whatever the problems, these women TTE’s are determined to extract their pound of flesh for a simple reason: every month they have to meet a target of Rs 15,000; hence, the need to nail every transgressor.

To ensure that they are successful, they wear ordinary clothes, instead of the distinctive white uniform of the TTE. (Incidentally, in Kerala, there are no regular women TTEs. In fact, all of them work in the anti-fraud section).

So, come rain or shine, they are focused on their daily cat and mouse game with passengers. So, what is the advice they would give passengers? “Please pay the fine,” they plead in unison. “We cannot understand why people would want to risk going to jail, or lose an arm or a leg or even their lives, rather than pay a fine which, usually, does not exceed Rs. 300.”

Varghese remembers a group of football lovers who had come to watch a match at Ernakulam and took a train to return to Aluva, 30 kms away. None of them had tickets. When he confronted them, all seven rushed to the door and jumped off, one by one. “Sadly, the last man slipped and fell under the wheels,” he says. “Please pay the fine!”

(Some names have been changed)

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Chennai)

No comments:

Post a Comment