This article was published earlier on the digital magazine platform, Women’s Web (www.https://www.womensweb.in/2020/07/pandemic-ity-pandey-indian-railways-jul20wk2mad/) in July 2020
Meet Ity Pandey, the Chief Commercial Manager, Indian Railways who managed to help several migrant workers reach home during the pandemic in 2020!
In his book, “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present”, Historian Frank M. Snowden says, “Like all pandemics, COVID 19 is not an accidental or random event. Epidemics afflict societies through the specific vulnerabilities people have created by their relationships with the environment, other species and each other…….COVID 19 flared up and spread because it suited the society that we have made. A world of nearly 8 billion people, the majority of whom live in densely crowded cities and all linked by rapid air travel….”
For the India narrative, the most vulnerable spot has undoubtedly been the daily wage worker and also those who had come into cities from the villages of India looking to eke out a living. Yes, the word ‘migrant labour’ is now a common part of the Indian English lexicon. The overnight lockdown exposed this vulnerability and a horrific humanitarian crisis unfolded in front of our eyes, which some of us saw personally and some read and saw on various media platforms.
Crisis brings out heroes
However, any crisis also throws up heroes and leaders, who go beyond their line of duty and Ity Pandey, 48, a 1996 batch Indian Civil Services bureaucrat is one of them. Having been inducted into the Indian Railway Traffic Service, Ity is currently Chief Commercial Manager (Passenger Services), Central Railways with her office at the VT station, Mumbai. Indeed, this was the station from where most ‘Shramik trains’ were departing from – as it was the route to West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh from where most migrant labourers come.
The Indian Railways, as we have read in the papers, was one organisation that has played a major part in providing succour to the migrant labour starting from the IRCTC base kitchens who have been providing hot meals for lunch and dinner. By the end of April, it had crossed the two million free meals mark with the Railway Protection Force stepping up their game in the distribution of food packets across 30 locations in the country. Many railway coaches were converted to hospital beds and the railways also started PPEs, masks and sanitisers.
She made sure she tackled all issues headlong
However, our story here focuses on the Shramik trains which the railways have been running since May 1. The railways have run over 4,436 Shramik Special trains and transported more than 62 lakh migrant workers back to their home states.
Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. It was an ordinary day when Ms. Pandey’s colleague from the income tax office called and requested that some six migrants wanted to be sent back to their village. Like a routine procedure, the Allahabad born, Ity Pandey asked them to come to the station so that tickets could be booked for them. She thought the issue would be simple and would sort itself out. However, the next day, on the 12th of May, she got a call that the number of passengers had risen to 32. These were basically watchmen and their families who had not been paid salaries for two months and were at a risk of becoming homeless. In the face of uncertainty, these families wanted to get back to Jaunpur, their hometown. Luck seemed to be on their side as there were two trains going to Varanasi which is a couple of hours from Jaunpur.
The train was scheduled at 9.15 pm and it was decided that the migrants reach the LTT (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus station) at 5.30 pm. At 5 pm, Ity Pandey got a call, that there was no transport available for the migrants to reach the station.
The labourers were her first priority, no matter what
This news could rattle the faint-hearted but this feisty lady has a habit to think on her feet. One choice was to drop the plan for that day and look at the train for the next day. But that was hardly a choice as these families were already homeless. If the journey had to be postponed, they would be on the roads for a full day and that too in a lockdown. “This was because most trains are scheduled for the night, as the day is spent in paperwork and medical tests and coordinating with the state authorities.”
So, the only choice Ity had was to look for a travel agent and ask for a bus. Considering the circumstances and the risks, the travel agent quoted a steep price, but cost was the last thing on her mind. But when the migrants were on their way, the scheduled train was cancelled because of low occupancy. Another quick decision had to be taken and thankfully she found that there was another train from VT going towards the direction of Juanpur. She had to re-negotiate with the bus driver to bring the passengers to the VT station. What followed was another hike in price, but despite the background of a complete lockdown and travel restrictions in the city of Mumbai, the migrant passengers managed to reach the station at 9.15 pm.
She ensured they got their happy ending
With the help of the railways staff, new tickets were issued and they boarded the train at 12 am. They travelled for a day and half and then continued their journey further to Jaunpur for another day. The story has a happy ending because after a quarantine period for 14 days, they reached home safe and sound. 32 lives were impacted positively and they sent messages of gratitude to Ms. Pandey. Indeed, stories like these shows how much compassion we are capable of and how those in positions of responsibility can make a difference to human life. There were several sequels to this story of compassion and trust that often don’t make it to the national media.
Ity Pandey – a woman of substance, also has other feathers in her cap. She has received the General Managers award in 1999 and 2016 and the Ministry of Railways Award for Meritorious service in 2007. In 2016, she was awarded the ‘Women’s Achievers Award’ for her work in creating the ‘Surakshini Sena’. The Surakshini Sena was created in the year 2000 with groups of lady ticket-checking squads and RPF lady constables to man ladies’ compartments in local trains.
Serving her country is all she aspires to do
Ity is currently in charge of the ‘Matunga All Ladies Station’ to ensure that lady staff members are never inconvenienced. Giving back to society is a big part of Ity’s life and she is part of ‘Margadarshan’ – a venture that she has started with her husband, Virendra Ojha, a 1993 batch ICS officer. This was set up to train UPSC aspirants fro underprivileged backgrounds in her hometown of Allahabad. The training is absolutely free and all that the dynamic duo expect is commitment from the students. Coming from a family of doctors what made Ity opt for the civil services? “Since childhood my canvas was vast. I dreamt of serving my country and reaching out to people in a big way. That is what inspired me to choose Civil Services”, avers Ity.
She is a marathon runner too!
It’s not all work and no play for this dynamic mother of two. Ity recently completed the 21 Km at Canathon Mumbai Half Marathon 2020 on the occasion of International Women’s Day with chip timing of 02:10:56. This was just another one in addition to 42 half marathons, 2 full marathons and four Ultra marathons that she had done earlier. She has managed podium finishes at the 2018 and 2020 Jaipur Marathon. At the Adani night ultra-run, she was placed first among women clocking 72kms in 12 hrs. “I consider it my best run as I came back from injury and no running for 9 months”, says a very satisfied Ity.
She says, “Running helps you to maintain a calm in the midst of a storm”. Indeed, the world is looking for some calm, but individuals like Ity Pandey give us hope on how to lead from the front.