Salma Khan is the first woman to be a train driver in the history of Bangladesh.When the British introduced the Railway in the Sub-Continent, trains ran with coal fire steam engines. This required heavy manual labour that could be delivered only by strong bodied men. Thus the profession was beyond the reach of women. Following the introduction of diesel engine manual labour in driving the train engine was eliminated. This led to the possibility of women to enter into this profession.Despite this, women were not considered fit to be train drivers for social and traditional inhibitions. Salma created history by her interest and acceptance of a train driver’s job.
Just a few years ago her life was a very ordinary one. She was unaware of any life outside the middleclass world she grew up in.
She soon found that the difference between her old lifestyle and the new one was very great. Fitting in with her environment came hand in hand with a constant struggle for survival. Salma is the fourth of her late father Belayet Hossain Khan’s three daughters and two sons. They were a poor family from Arjuna village of Bhuapur Upazilla in Tangail. After her father’s death in December, 2005, it became essential for her and her siblings to start working for the family to survive. She had applied for the railway A.L.M and M.S posts after having attained an honors degree in Zoology from Jagannath University in 2006. Her two older brothers had also applied for the same posts, and though neither of them got the job, Salma was selected for the railway A.L.M post. She started primary training as an assistant train driver in Dhaka and Chitagong on 8 March, 2004. At the end of her training on 15 February, 2006 she started to work from the Laksham railway junction in Comilla. On 18 February, 2006 Salma assisted train driver Shafiqur Rahman on the passenger train number 184 on a journey from Laksham to Noakhali. Even before that, during her training in Dhaka, she had travelled for two days from Dhaka to Joydebpur and from Akhaura to Bhairob as an assistant train driver. Salma is still in training that will continue till next April. She will be qualified as a full-fledged train driver after she completed her training. Although, when a school student, her dream was to become a banker, she has no regrets about becoming a train driver. She is satisfied with her achievement and is happy with what she is.
Women have come a long way since the fifties- a time when being a school teacher was considered to be the only ‘respectable’ job for a woman. Women today not only contribute to but play essential roles in more or less all fields of work. This is something that one could not even imagine a few decades age. Today women work shoulder to shoulder with men in every walk of life, from running road-side tea stalls, office canteens, tailors’ shops to working as high ranking officials and lawyers. The women in our country have, with time, emerged and worked towards creating an equal position for them. They are no longer stuck within the boundaries of the roles that were previously considered to be the only ones they were born to fill. Women in our country are no longer the ones to sit at home blaming their destiny for their misfortunes. This gradual yet effective rise of women in our society has been greatly aided by education; an exposure to modern outlooks toward life, an increasing awareness of one’s potential and above everything else, by the mere will to be independent. Salma Khan is one woman who has learned to be independent through constant struggle. She believes that it is essential for women to be strong-willed and independent. She has struggled through times of extreme difficulties to achieve something that nobody had achieved in our country before. She believes that hard work and courageous struggle is important for a person to succeed in life.
The norms of our society have become such that as soon as a father retires or passes away it is only the son who is expected to take up the responsibility of running the family. Nobody expects anything from the daughter though she is equally capable of taking up responsibilities in every way that the son is. It is this kind of mentality that leads all the family members, along with the daughter, to depend on the son for the family to go on. There are exceptions, of course, however small in number. Salma is one. She feels all the more proud to be the first lady train driver in the history of our country as, by achieving something like this, she has managed to overcome the quintessential norms of our society that weigh most women down even today. She is grateful to the Banlgadesh Railway administration for allowing a woman to be able to face such a challenge. In Salma’s opinion, more women should be allowed this opportunity to join Bangladesh Railway. She is confident that given a chance, women of this country, like those of many other countries, can prove their worth in many other fields of career.
Salma Khan’s unusual achievement has brought respect and pride to her family. The members of the family now walk with their heads held high. It is their love and encouragement that has been Salma’s strength and allowed her to overcome all difficulties posed to her on the way to achieving the position she stands in today.
When asked about difficulties in her working environment, she laughs and says, “There are difficulties in every step of life, no matter what. I would have been more comfortable if my assistant (the fireman) was a woman or if there was bathroom facilities in the section that I work in, as there are none in the engine room. I am constantly faced with swarms of people, mostly men who stare at me and sometimes even hurl inappropriate comments at me. I consider the night shifts to be the most difficult part of my job. There is always a constant feeling of insecurity and fear. Even though women have made their space in almost all walks of life, sadly enough, most people in our society still have not accepted women to be equally capable as men. However, I believe that no matter which walk of life one chooses for oneself, one must go through difficulties in order to achieve his or her goals. This is especially true for women as it is only by overcoming these difficulties and struggles that women can gain their independence and self-realisation.”