23 year-old Mirza Salma Beg may not look any different from most girls, but what she does for a living sets her apart from ‘most everyone her age, gender notwithstanding! Salma is India’s first, and possibly only, woman gateman.
“Gateman” is a title given to a person who operates level crossings in the Indian Railways. Like the name suggests, the job of gatemen has, heretofore, been assigned to men. The job includes operating the gates to railway crossings by manually operating a winch, or lever. The job is strenuous and one that the Railways website considers women unlikely to apply for. Like the designation “gateman”, the website refers to prospective applicants using only male pronouns.
Salma Beg is the only woman in a 12-member team at the Malhaur station in Lucknow.
Beg came to take up this job more out of necessity than choice. Her mother is paralyzed and after her gateman father could no longer continue at his job due to partial hearing loss, the only choice available to Salma was to take her father’s place as gateman.
In an interview, Beg said,
It was my parents who told me that no job is too difficult for a woman to do. They warned me it will be difficult and awkward initially, but I will be fine.
Predictably, Salma’s relatives, and acquaintances of the Beg family, were convinced that a girl couldn’t possibly do this job and kept hemming and hawing about how this was no job for a girl. She also faced similar, sexist skepticism from her coworkers when she first took up the job in 2013. But her parents supported her decision, no questions asked.
And now, three years later, the girl who only wanted to study some more, has proven all those naysayers wrong. Quiet and unassuming she stands, India’s first, and only, woman gateman!