#IAmDetermination: Surekha Yadav On How She 'Chugged' Ahead

Pioneer in her field, she is an inspiration to scores of women as the first woman in Asia to drive a train. Meet Surekha Yadav, who was determined to be a train driver and ‘chugged’ ahead of her time!

By Monali Bordoloi  • 11 min read

#IAmDetermination: Surekha Yadav On How She 'Chugged' Ahead
“Your determination to move forward should be strong enough to negate any force that pulls you backward.” – Surekha Yadav

This Women’s Day, we at ParentCircle, present inspiring stories of the women of today for the women of tomorrow! Read, be inspired and share these incredible stories with your daughters. Let your little girls look up to these real-life role models as they grow up to become the strong women of tomorrow.

This #IAmWoman story relates to #IAmDetermination

Can you imagine a woman breaking gender stereotypes in the year 1988? Well, it is possible if you are determined like Surekha Yadav. Humble Surekha downplays her achievements, but this seemingly diminutive woman is the first female passenger train driver in Asia. Considered a profession only for men, Surekha challenged gender stereotypes back in the days, and there has been no looking back since. Inspired by the courage and bravery of Rani Lakshmibai, Surekha believes we should learn to fight for our rights, and it should come from within. She was determined and paved the way for other women to follow.

As part of our #IAmWoman series, we talk to the woman who ‘chugged’ ahead of her time. Let’s find out what makes Surekha, #IAmDetermination, in this interesting interview:

How does it feel to be the first female train driver in India and Asia?

It feels good that I am a pioneer in this field. However, when you enter a certain field of work, you don’t think about whether there are others before you or not, you just want to concentrate on your job and do it well. Now, I have completed 30 years of service and I would like to thank the Indian Railways, my friends and my relatives for supporting me in achieving this.

You created history in 2011, on Women’s Day, as you drove the Deccan Queen train from Pune to CST, Mumbai. Tell us about it.

Yes, that was a momentous journey. It was the culmination point of many years of hard work and training. I was not nervous or afraid, as I was fully prepared for it. I still remember all the praises and adulation I received after I completed the journey. The respect in people’s eyes for my achievements was a big reward for me.

You have been driving trains for many years now. Which is your most memorable train journey and why?

In 2018, I drove a passenger train from Mumbai to Pune. That would be my most memorable journey, as I drove the train through many difficult turns and the entire route was scenic. It was an all-female staff in that train too!

What made you decide to pursue a male-dominated field of work? Did you face any challenges as the only female driver back in the days?

Once you chose your career path, it does not matter whether it is male-dominated or not. You just show up and do your job diligently. What society talks behind your back really should not matter. In fact, I believe, if people around you see your grit and passion for your job, they won’t object to your choice of career.

The work I do is a little bit strenuous, but women in villages are doing more strenuous jobs without getting paid for it much. We just need to change our mindset.

Apart from some small talks, I didn’t face any real discrimination in my work environment.

Do you see any significant changes in the number of female railways drivers now?

Yes, more and more girls are venturing out and trying their hand at unconventional roles and professions. Today, we have around 25 female train drivers. With time, there is a better awareness among educated women. And they do not want to sit at home after attaining a good education. These days, everyone wants to be financially independent. So, it is increasingly becoming important for women to join the workforce. As for entering unconventional careers, until you try it how will you know if you are capable or not?

Why do you think there are still several sectors where women are reluctant to venture? What can be done to encourage more female workforce?

That sense of self-worth and independence should be inculcated in girls from their early childhood. So that once they grow up, they seek and find their true calling. Nowadays, many women are coming out to venture into unknown and difficult fields. Also, if you are a working mother, there would be some stumbling blocks. Every working woman faces these. You need to learn how to balance it.

So, the first step is to figure out what you want to do in life. Then prepare yourself by studying about your chosen field. And when the opportunities come, don’t shy away from taking it up.

Your husband is supportive of your work we heard. Do you think it is important that family members support your decisions?

Yes, my husband supported me throughout my career. He is one of the main reasons because of which I could reach this level today. It does become easier if your family supports your career choices. However, first you need to figure out what you want to do in life and stick to it with hard work and dedication. Seeing your passion and determination, your family is bound to support you eventually.

Throughout your career, you showed dedication and grit. What would be your advice to today’s young generation to bring that passion into their chosen field?

I always believe in doing my job well and with full honesty. I would like to request the younger generation to fully concentrate on their work when they are on the job, and not bother whether they are getting appreciation or not. If you work for other’s appreciation, you will be disappointed, so instead, work for your own happiness. Be your own benchmark. Don’t wait for others to award you for your work. You will get your own reward everyday if you do your job well.

You have been awarded many awards for your feat. Do you think there is enough encouragement from society and the govt towards women?

I am really thankful for all the awards and recognitions I have gotten over the years. If my story could positively influence any section of the society, I am happy.

Share with us that one moment when you felt proud to be a woman.

The first time, when I drove a train as a driver, that would be the moment when I felt proud to be a woman.

What was your parents’ role in your upbringing, and their involvement in making you who you are today?

Whatever I am today it is because of my parent’s right upbringing. I learnt this never-say-die positive attitude from their teachings.

You are the mother to two boys. How do you raise them to respect women?

You cannot teach kids; you have to lead by example. Kids copy their parents and learn from their surroundings. If they see us treating everyone equally and giving respect to women, talking nicely to everyone, they will also slowly imbibe those traits. You cannot make them understand all this in a day, it is a slow process.

Who is that one woman who inspires you and why?

From my childhood days, I am inspired by the courage and bravery of Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi. She fought against the mighty British empire alone. We should also learn to fight for our rights, and that feeling should come from within.

Your message to women on women’s day!

Find out your true potential and then chase your dreams. Half the battle is won if you can figure out early on what you want to achieve in life. Next part is to reach that goal with optimal effort, hard work and dedication. Your determination to move forward should be strong enough to negate any force that pulls you backward. If you can do this, you are bound to be successful. When there is a will, there is a way. Your will power should be the strongest.

To listen to the entire interview with Surekha Yadav check out our exclusive podcast!

Hall of fame

  • 2018: President Ram Nath Kovind honoured Surekha with the prestigious First Ladies Award at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.
  • 2013: bestowed the RWCC Best women award.
  • 2011: awarded the women achievers award by Central Railway.
  • 2011: honoured with the GM award for first lady locopilot in Indian Railways.
  • 2005: received the Prerna Puraskar.
  • 2004: awarded the Sahyadri Hirkani award.
  • 2003: awarded during the SBI Platinum jubilee year celebrations.
  • 2001: her achievements were recognised by the Rashtriya Mahila Aayog, Delhi with an award.
  • 2001: received Women Achievers Award by Lions Club of India.
  • 1998: received the Jijau Puraskar.

Also read: #IAmCompassion: Dr. Renuka Ramakrishnan Breaks Boundaries With Love

About the author:

Written by Monali Bordoloi on 28 February 2020.

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