INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL – ‘Empower yourself with strength, confidence’: Shilpi Agarwal
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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL – ‘Empower yourself with strength, confidence’: Shilpi Agarwal

March 7, 2024

By Special Correspondent Shadan Muneer

Strength unmatched, resilience unwavering, empathy limitless, compassion enduring, love selfless — women embody these qualities and more. March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a global celebration honouring women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It’s also a day to spotlight the ongoing fight for gender equality and advocate for women’s rights and empowerment worldwide.

The 2024 theme, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,’ underscores the importance of gender equality, women’s and girls’ empowerment and their right to healthier lives. On the eve of Women’s Day, Star of Mysore Special Correspondent Shadan Muneer caught up with two extraordinary women in an exclusive interview to gain insights into their ideas, accomplishments and personal lives. — Ed

Shilpi Agarwal, a recipient of the Indian Railways Minister’s Award and General Manager’s Award, currently serves as the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) of the Mysuru Division of South Western Railways (SWR), a position she has held since March 2023.

An IRAS (Indian Railways Accounts Service) 1993-batch Officer and a native of Lucknow, this mother of two children holds a post-graduate degree in Arts and a Doctorate in Sociology from Lucknow University. Throughout her three-decade-long career, she has undertaken various responsibilities and amassed extensive experience in the accounts sector.

She has continually upgraded her skills, attending training sessions in International Financial Reporting Standards in Ooty, the Leadership Business Innovation programme in Malaysia, the Advanced Management programme in Singapore and Finance and Accounts technical programmes in London and Paris. Beyond her professional pursuits, Shilpi Agarwal is an avid reader, devoted animal-lover and passionate about embroidery.

There are ups and downs in every profession, but when you are young, the fire in you keeps you going and you don’t feel worked up. However, as you grow older, you understand the environment and learn to deal with challenges. — Shilpi Agarwal

Star of Mysore (SOM): Putting in 30 years of unbridled service is a notable effort. Take us through your inspiring journey.

Shilpi Agarwal: I feel fortunate to be part of the Indian Railways and my journey began in 1994 when I qualified for the Civil Services and entered IRAS as I was good with numbers. In the initial years of my career, I held various positions at the Northern Railways. Before assuming the role of DRM in Mysuru, I served for five years with RVNL (Rail Vikas Nigam Limited) as a Group General Manager.

Additionally, I have contributed to projects such as the Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla project, Rishikesh-Karanprayag project, multiple Railway line doubling and Railway electrification projects, all of which have been immensely satisfying experiences. Taking on the role of DRM has been a fulfilling journey in itself.

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SOM: How challenging was it for a female employee when you started 30 years ago? Did you face any obstacles being a woman?

Shilpi Agarwal: If you have the zeal to perform well, everything falls into place. There are ups and downs in every profession, but when you are young, the fire in you keeps you going and you don’t feel worked up. However, as you grow older, you understand the environment and learn to deal with the challenges.

I always take positives from everything. When somebody tries to find fault, I don’t let it linger on and affect me much. I let my work speak because I am confident that I can manage a file as well or better than any man. Sometimes, I do feel that it is a male-dominated society, but mutual respect in an organisation goes a long way.

SOM: Do you think Indian Railways serves as a good employment opportunity for women? How many women work in the Mysuru Division?

Shilpi Agarwal: Yes. There are plenty of opportunities for women in Indian Railways at the managerial level, such as telecom and control room positions. Today, we also have many lady DRMs. It is also a safe environment for women to work in, compared to earlier times.

The Mysuru Division has 615 women staff — about  9 percent of the workforce.

SOM: Do you think it is safe for a lone woman traveller to take overnight journeys? How do you plan to improvise on safety measures?

Shilpi Agarwal: Yes, train is a safe mode of transport because you aren’t travelling alone in a coach; there are other co-passengers as well. Society being aware of their responsibilities goes a long way. The Railway Protection Force (RPF) performs its duties and takes preventive measures, and we also have lady escorts for safety. Increasing the number of Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) and RPF personnel to manage every train is something that we are working on.

SWR Mysuru Division DRM Shilpi Agarwal with husband and children.

SOM: How do you plan to make it more inclusive for differently-abled travellers and women travellers with infants?

Shilpi Agarwal: The Ministry for Disabilities has mandated the Railways to develop trains and stations suitable for differently-abled people, including ramps for boarding trains, more lifts, toilet-friendly initiatives and special coaches. These enhancements will be integrated into new stations that will be constructed in the future; it’s a long-term process that is currently underway. As for women travelling with infants, we appreciate your suggestion and will certainly consider it.

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SOM: It is a challenge to find clean toilets in India for women. Any plans to improvise it?

Shilpi Agarwal: Yes, it is indeed a challenge, especially in small stations due to the heavy footfall daily. The main reason is the improper disposal of waste material, which often clogs the toilets. Despite awareness campaigns, advertisements and efforts to educate the public about maintaining cleanliness, not everyone utilises the dustbins. While we have staff working in shifts to maintain cleanliness, the public must also play a role in maintaining hygiene.

SOM: You have planned to develop the City Railway Station as a world-class Railway Station. Can you shed light on this?

Shilpi Agarwal: There are two projects in the pipeline for the Mysuru Division: The yard redevelopment project and the Railway Station beautification project, both of which are currently being finalised by survey committees. Plans include expanding the Station Yard, adding three more lines and establishing a new Loco Colony.

The Station will be re-developed while preserving its heritage structure, similar to airport facilities. Features such as a new entry from the Railway ground, travelators, an increased number of lifts and escalators, small markets and eateries will be added. The project will commence after approval from the Railway Board. Additionally, the renovation of Railway Hospital and adding a new wing with OPDs, nurse stations and a pharmacy are also underway.

SOM: What are your other interests and hobbies besides your profession?

Shilpi Agarwal: In my younger days, I was passionate about embroidery and even learnt Belgium lace making during my posting in Brussels, which I found very engrossing. I also enjoy reading and whenever I get some time off, I like to spend it with my dog or watch something interesting on OTT platforms.

SOM: How are you enjoying your time in Mysuru?

Shilpi Agarwal: Mysuru is a peaceful, safe, clean and green city and I am enjoying my time here. I have a wonderful team of hard-working officers who ensure smooth functioning of trains. Our Division was also recognised for achieving the highest-ever incremental loading.

SOM: Your advice to young women?

Shilpi Agarwal: Be proud of the fact that you are a woman. Live for yourself, be humble, laugh a lot, don’t let obstacles bog you down, stand up for yourself and rise to be a powerhouse of strength and confidence.

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