Recent modifications in The Mines Act, 1952 allow women to work in shifts including night hours. SHALINI SAKSENA caught up with a few ladies who talk about what made them pursue a career in an industry that was until now male-dominated
On February 4, 2019, the Government allowed women to work in mines, both underground as well as opencast, during the day and at night with some riders like written permission from women is a must before employing them and they have to be deployed in a group of not less than three in a shift.
The Mines Act, 1952, had so far restricted the employment of women workers in underground mines and in opencast or above ground workings of the mine during night hours.The women labour force participation rate in the country stands at just 27% as against 51% in Indonesia, 58% in Bangladesh, 64% in China and 73% in Vietnam.
With the amendment, Tata Steel to boost gender diversity has recruited 10 women officers at its Noamundi Iron mine.
J Liril who joined Tata Steel in 2002 as Trade Apprentice from SNTI, Jamshedpur, after completion of her graduation says she joined the Iron-Ore Processing Plant as Fitter-cum-operator in 2006 and was subsequently promoted as a mechanic. She was later promoted as Chargehand, the position she holds at present.
“I belong to Noamundi. My father used to work with Tata Steel. I am the second generation who is working here. I started as a trade apprentice back in 2006. To begin with, there were some apprehensions since there were no women working in mechanical jobs. It was considered to be a man’s work. I had to work with them in the field since there weren’t many facilities available. We did our work with the help of our male colleagues. With times, things changed for the better,” Liril recounts.
While there were a few comments by men however the majority of them never made Liril feel uncomfortable that she was in the wrong department. “They never said that because I was a woman, I was best suited for a desk job. My job, at present, is providing others training on how to operate the machines and complete the job in the field. There have been times when the machine develops a snag. I have had to lend a helping hand it rectifying the issue,” Liril says.
It has been 13 years since she first began working in a job that was predominantly male. A lesson that Liril has learnt is that one must not shirk or run away from any job that has come her way.
“Whatever work has been assigned to you, needs to be completed to one’s best abilities. Hard work is important. We have to prove that even though we are working in a field that was male-dominated, today we stand with them. It is necessary to set an example for the other women who will come forward to take our place in the future. If today, we refuse to do a particular work, the coming generation will also not come forward,” the 42-year-old tells you who is married and has a baby boy.
“There is no difference between a boy or a girl today. I had been working since before my marriage. My husband encouraged me as did my in-laws. I want to grow professionally and take on more responsibilities by working in a shift,” Liril says.
Twenty-eight-year-old Karishma Kandoi who is working as Manager Mechanical in the Iron-Ore Processing Plant after doing her Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from Assam Engineering College in the year 2013 who hails from, Dhubri, a small town in Assam tells you that her father is a businessman.
“He deals with automobile spare parts. My mother is a homemaker. I joined this unit in July so it has been only a few months. Till now working here has been amazing. I began my career with Jindal Steel after graduation. I am not bothered whether I am working in a job that was traditionally for men. I am more concerned in making a career for myself in this field. It doesn’t bother me whether there are other women working beside me. I just want to push myself and realise my potential. Now, at Tata Steel, the work culture is such that it doesn’t instill fear. The group has provided several faculties to make us feel safe. There is transportation with GPS tracer. There are CCTVs to monitor things,” Kandoi says.
Her interest in mechanics began as a child. She used to watch her father work with automobile parts. This made her pursue mechanical engineering. “When I got the opportunity to study this subject, I was thrilled. My parents encouraged me. They never stopped me from pursuing my passion or go wherever I wanted to. Even when I was the only girl to be selected for the course, my parents supported me and were very proud of me. More so since I have started working here,” Kandoi says.
She has been working in the sector for six years and be away from home. “There were things that will always make you homesick. When you step out of your comfort zone there are bound to be difficulties. But the facilities in the township make it easy for us. Whether is it the work environment or otherwise, it doesn’t feel as if I am working in the mining sector. I can go out for a movie, or a swim. Whatever we need is within our reach,” Kandoi tells you.
That is the reason why safety is not such a big issue for her. “Safety is an issue the minute one steps out of the home. This is impractical if one wants to work. Even if I was living in a metro, I would have to fend for myself. I have to look after my safety. I can’t always be dependent on others,” Kandoi says who works as a shift-in-charge.
Her work involves washing of the ore that comes in before it is sent further down the production line. “After the ore is mined it is sent to us. There is a process that is involved. Primary and secondary wash plants. This involves complete manpower handling. We have to see which department requires how much manpower and what kind of work they need to undertake. We have to take corrective action as well if there is a machinery breakdown. These require snap decisions if problems arise since the ultimate goal is that there are no hindrances in production,” Kandoi shares.
She tells you that while she is not married at present if the subject came up, she would tell the person that he needs to accept her with her job.“I will tell him that there is no way I am going to leave my job. He has to understand that I will not go where his jobs take him since this is where I work,” Kandoi says.
Pratixa Kher working as Senior Manager Mining after doing a Bachelor’s in Mining Engineering from Government Engineering College, Bhuj in 2012 and holds a First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate of Competency by Directorate General of Mines Safety hails from Mangrol in Gujarat.
Like Kandoi, her father too is a businessman and mother a homemaker. She is a long way away from home — West to East.
“Till recently girls were not allowed to work in mining. But thanks to the Government, this is now possible. I was the first girl from my batch to graduate with a mining engineering. It was not easy. My parents didn’t know what the field was like. I was told that this sector was not for women. That it was a tough field to work in. Even after I got my campus placement with Vedanta Hindustan Coal, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. It was only after I landed up on day one of the job and realised what the work entailed. It was such a bad day. But it has been seven years since then. I have worked in all the departments related to mining. One has to be ready to work in every condition. Now, I am here. I joined the unit in August this year,” Kher says.
The reason why she changed her job was that she wanted to work in shift. “In my previous, due to the law restrictions, I couldn’t work in shift. But here, I am shift in-charge,” Kher says who got married in 2016.She tells you that both she and her husband worked in the same department before she decided to move to Noumundi while her husband is still with Hindustan Coal.
Interestingly, she never thought about staying back home and looking for a job there. Or even help her father in his agriculture business. “My father never forced me to do want I wanted. But he wanted me to become an engineer. That is why I took the subject at graduation,” Kher tells you. She has a message for women who want to pursue a career in this sector. “They should not balk at taking up mining as a profession just because the working conditions are tough. There will be dust; one will have to work in the field where there is no AC. It is not a glamorous work environment. One should be ready all the time. Women should not be afraid to work in a particular department. On one hand, we talk about 21st Century and equal pay. We have to be ready to accept that comes our way,” Kher tells you.
Pushpa Rai who is working as Assistant Manager Mechanical after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Master’s in Industrial and Production Engineering from Uttar Pradesh Technical University.
Rai is from Lucknow. Her father is a retired Additional SP and mother a homemaker. Her six siblings — two brothers and four sisters are all working.She tells you that unlike most families and girls who found comfort by staying home.
“When I took up engineering, it never occurred to me that I had to look for work closer to home. I am blessed that my parents never stopped me from whatever I wanted to do. It was my decision to study engineering; it was my decision to work with Tata Steel,” Rai says.
She tells you that a typical day for her depends on what time her shift starts. “I am so excited to be working night shift and am shift in-charge. It is such a proud moment for us that we can command and the entire operation,” Rai says.
She agrees with Kher and opines that one can’t be bothered by weather conditions. “Even at home one can feel the cold or feel the heat and work even when it is raining. It is a mindset. We have to work around the weather conditions,” Rai says.
Though she is not married, she tells you that each person makes plans whether they materialise or not is another thing.Once her shift is over, there are several things that Rai does to entertain herself.
“There are so many things that one can do here. There are so many facilities here. One has to visit this place to understand what kind of entertainment is on offer for people. Most Saturdays are spent watching a movie,” Rai says.
Though her parents have not visited her yet, since she has recently joined, she plans to visit the family for Diwali. “Being the youngest means that I am the pampered one. I have to visit the family,” Rai says.
She has a message for women. “There are so many women who study mechanical engineering but pursue a job in another sector. If this is what they had wanted to do, why pursue mechanical engineering? What I sow is what the future generation will learn from like I have learnt that I can do whatever I set my mind to,” Rai says.