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Kashish Sharma About Her Life On Railway Tracks As Only Woman Inspection Engineer

  • IWB Post
  •  January 8, 2021

I remember looking out of the train window and imagining the tracks swishing and moving across each other in order to catch up with the speed of the train. I also remember closing my eyes and fancying the train to suddenly move in the opposite direction. I am not sure if I was the only one or if there were others who shared these mildly strange imaginative exercises while aboard a train. But thankfully, there was one kid who wasn’t letting her imagination run wild on silly musings. Instead, she was intelligently thinking and pondering over the important questions. How does this work? How are the signals changing? Why isn’t the train falling apart? How are accidents being avoided? She was none other than Kashish Sharma who today is an inspection engineer with the Indian Railways.

As the only girl, Kashish has not had it easy. I mean why would a girl want to be dressed up in all gear managing the technologies and construction at a forsaken railway site. She would be best suited at a desk job preparing PPT’s or excel sheets rather than walking for kilometers or sweating it out in the field or construction site. At least that is the rhetoric that most people would like to hear, albeit it falls flat on its face in the case of Kashish’s story. “With me, it’s just the opposite! Whenever someone told me that you are a girl and so you will not be able to do something, I would take it as a challenge and I would do it. Who gives anyone the right to tell a third person that they are incapable of doing a particular task? No one in the world has that right. I know what I can do, no one else can. And as women, we have to have faith in ourselves. There are of course ups and downs, but we tend to sometimes hear the voices that society brings to us. This is not our personal voice. The moment you start believing in something, you can do it,” says Kashish.

Kashish Sharma

Kashish’s journey so far is not only about her being the only woman inspection engineer at the site. It is also not about the challenges she faced just because it was assumed her gender made her incompetent to do certain things. From the fact that there were discussions every week on whether to send her to the site or not to the shunning and isolation she faced in the initial months of her field service, Kashish’s story moves beyond the discriminations. It’s not so much about the challenges and tribulations, as it is about her determination to not let that take away from her work and identity. In essence, it is about her persistence. She convinced her seniors to give her a chance in the field, she decided to take the first step and talk to her team explaining that she was not just any girl on site but was there in the capacity of an engineer. She handled her job with efficiency, so much so, that she is glad she was able to change their perception even if it wasn’t too drastic. “Now everyone in the office knows what my potential is and that I can handle 10-15 men. But even while complimenting me they say you are ‘our lakda’.”

Yes, it is hard for people to accept when they see a girl in an unexpected professional setting. Especially for those that have to work under her. But Kashish understands why. “It’s not their fault because girls are never there and they have never taken instructions this way. It’s just imbibed in our culture and so they felt awkward psychologically. They were also clueless and I can’t blame them for being that way. But the fact that I could change their mentality and they could work with me is what overwhelms me. I wasn’t accepted in the beginning but when people see you working just as well as them, then they don’t care about you being a girl. Our mentality is not very rigid, we have to change it and it’s possible to change it. Only we have to make many extra efforts.”

Sadly the ‘mentality’ of society, especially for women, is sometimes embedded in extremely archaic and inhuman stances. Kashish was asked in her job interview if she was comfortable working in the field because that would darken her skin and make it difficult for her to find a suitable husband. Of course, the HR was trying to gauge her attitude and mental ability to rise above such petty societal expectations, but it was nonetheless an expression of what does goes on in the minds of many. Of course, she passed with flying colors saying that she had no interest in being with someone who married her based on her skin color. Yet, societal perceptions are often too strong to break from the sidelines. They can only be shattered by living a life that is inclusive, empathic, and inspirational. Kashish has been able to do so by being herself and living life on her terms. Whether it is her Instagram page, her ideas and efforts on trying to better the future of the children of the laborers on-site, or her determination to refuse the taunts and ignorance of others – Kashish has chartered a path that merits acknowledgment and kudos.

Kashish Sharma

In conversation with Kashish Sharma, we discover her dreams, challenges, and her relentless pursuit of celebrating every small achievement because as she says, “I am celebrating my rights and my respect. These should have been given naturally to me, but weren’t. And so I am celebrating the fact that my efforts made that happen.”

Why did you want to become a railway engineer? Of all the professions out there what attracted you to this one?

Kashish: I was always oriented to space technology and in fact, I have also given the ISRO exam. I got this job before the exam and my parents convinced me to take it up.  Since childhood, I have always had an inclination towards industrial or manufacturing jobs. In the end, this is also a construction field but I had never thought I would land up here. It was just fate or pure luck.

Every successful woman needs a support system behind her. Be it her parents, husband, or someone to not curb her dreams. Do you agree with this, what are your thoughts?

Kashish: Yes, my parents did play a big role but I think behind every successful woman is that woman herself. Because no one understands the problems you face but everyone expects you to succeed. For example, I was asking for a washroom on site and people actually asked me if that was so necessary. It is a contractual clause that washrooms should be on the site but the contractor didn’t make it because it’s a male field. It took them 6 months to understand the logic that I needed a washroom. I am not saying I didn’t have people to back me up but it didn’t come easy. I know how much more effort I had to take to get more people by my side. So I am going to give the entire credit of success to myself.

Being the only woman on the field has both practical as well as cultural challenges. Can you highlight a few?

Kashish: I have a long list. To start with, in the first five-six months of my job every week there was a discussion if it was necessary to send me to the site. I had to tell people again and again that I was a girl but to please give me a chance. On-site everyone looked at me as if I was an alien. Even my subordinates would try to avoid me. People did not wish me, they had no respect or regard that I was their boss or that they had to follow my instructions. I felt very isolated and alienated. But then I realized that I had to remove this. I took efforts from my side and I would go and talk to them. I told them that this is a professional field and I am here as an engineer and their boss.

From your Instagram posts, we get the impression that you are a feisty girl who takes a problem head-on and doesn’t crib but forges ahead doing what you want. There are humor and determination, so is this how you generally approach all challenges in your life? Walk us through your approach to dealing with challenges, what goes on in your mind?

Kashish: For the first six months of the job, I was frustrated because it was difficult to cope with all this isolation and discrimination alone. It occurred to me that it seemed it was a crime for a girl to enter this field. But I thought that I was doing such great work and so I shouldn’t feel this way. It was then that I started this page on Instagram and to be very honest after starting this page I had a more tolerant attitude towards everything. I had so many people come and support me, boost my morale, and give me motivation. I do have problems even now but I deal with them with a smile knowing something will come out of it.

Kashish Sharma

It’s a myth that some jobs are only cut out for men. You are one of the few women breaking the so-called glass ceiling. For how much longer do you think will ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ not be referred to as an exception but a norm?

Kashish: We need someone to look up to. Society has told us that we can’t do certain things, so we need women who can tell us and them that we can do anything. After I started this page, 20-25 young girls have asked me how they can get into the railways and how they thought that this was not a career option. We need more role models. We need more women to come up and start doing things that people say or assume cannot be done by them.

What is your advice to women who are often shunned at work and not given equal rights and opportunities?

Kashish: I have only this to say: Please don’t be scared. There is nothing you can’t do. Society imbibes a fear into us. It’s not within us, it comes from outside and you have to keep blocking that fear. On the site, people had orally abused me because I was a girl and it was very scary. I remember going to my car and crying because I felt weird and scared. But I went back and told them that you had no right to talk to a professional like this. I am a girl and if they have a problem with it they should deal with it themselves. We have to stop being scared.

Why is becoming a railway engineer a rewarding and fun career option – for those who would want to take it up?

Kashish: There are two things I love about the job. First, there is an incredible amount of technology that you get to learn. Railway signal, for example, is crazy and it is not taught in any school or college. It is fascinating, new, and not related to anything you have studied. And everyone has traveled in the railway at some point in their lives so there is the curiosity of what and how it works. Secondly, the kind of exposure you will get is amazing. I have to go to sites where we are walking for two km on the track to reach the site. You have to deal with all kinds of people, laborers, supervisors, seniors who come on site to check our work. So there is a lot of management and obviously a lot of traveling which is the best part.

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