“Ashwini holds the record of rappelling down a twelve-storey building in less than two minutes,” said a male counterpart and senior section engineer of her department. “Whenever any incident takes place or someone is in need of medical help or care, she is the first go-to person in the workshop,” he added.
For Ashwini Ghanekar, taking up carpentry work at the Matunga workshop of Central Railway was a necessity more than choice. Fifteen years back when her husband, also an employee at the Matunga workshop, passed away, she had to give up teaching and instead fill into his shoes — which was way beyond her qualifications.
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“I had to raise four children on my own. It was difficult at first to work with heavy machines and handle sharp objects which I had never done before. The workshop initially trained me and then I took it upon myself to be good at it,” Ashwini said.
Like her, the workshop, which looks after maintenance of coaches and their overhauling, boasts of many other women engaged in labour considered “tough” or “for men”. Overcoming difficult work timings and physical constraints, they claim to be in the job not for a living but because they enjoy it.
In their long working careers at the workshop, these women have dabbled in many roles – most of which have tested their physical strength. A workday begins as early as at quarter to 7 and can stretch till quarter to 4. “I do this work because I cannot stay glued to one place for a long time,” said Vandana Ingale, who operates a traverser (vehicle for uplifting/shifting coaches/locos) at the workshop. “I have been trained in the mechanical section, so I like this job. The best part is, I work with complete freedom,” she added.
These women say they don’t feel insecure about having to compete with men. “After learning painting at the workshop, I was able to paint at home as well. What we learn here also proves useful back home,” said Sangeeta Malekar, who has been painting coaches for almost 10 years now.
“When we started working, it seemed weird. Working with paint, soiling clothes… Later, it just came easy upon us. So much so, other workers miss us when we take a break,” said another woman.
Working with machines or dangerous instruments does come across as difficult for many but with years of experience, they make it look easy. “Yes, there is some amount of fear. While painting coaches, we come across difficult or sharp things we need to be careful about. But the play with colours is the most engaging. It is more of concentrating on doing a job better than leaving a dull output,” said Shivali Patekar, who too paints coaches.