At the Jaipur Railway Station,
Manju Devi stands separated from others in her society, holding the qualification of being the first woman coolie (porter) of North Western Railway, a calling that is viewed as a male bastion. Devi has gone up against the requesting assignment of pulling gear for travelers in the wake of procuring her perished spouse Mahadev’s porter permit no. 15. The sole provider for her three kids, Manju’s endeavors were recognised by the President earlier this year, with her consideration among 112 ladies achievers congratulated for setting a milestone in their respective fields.
Manju Devi ferries luggage across the tracks at the Jaipur station. A porter’s job is a physically demanding one, but with her children to take care of, Manju Devi takes on everyday with grit and determination.
Manju Devi hauls a passenger’s luggage inside a train compartment. “I weighed 30 kgs and the passengers’ luggage was also 30 kgs but it was nowhere to the burden of feeding three children,” Devi narrated earlier this year at the felicitation ceremony, with President Ram Nath Kovind in attendance.
Devi waits for passengers as a train arrives on a platform. She reminiscences how being illiterate and unaware of how the platforms are numbered, she had to depend on passengers and fellow porters to locate coaches and seats until the authorities learnt of this and trained her over a period of six months.
A detail view of Manju Devi’s porter licence badge no. 15 as she waits for passengers on a platform at the railway station, in Jaipur. Devi was among 112 women who were felicitated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development as ‘First Ladies’, celebrating women who have breached barriers and registered a first in their areas of engagement.
Manju Devi places her license plate to her forehead in an apparent gesture of gratitude for enabling her financial independence. Now, clad in a red kurta and black salwar, she sets out every day, working in multiple shifts.
A set of Railway porter Manju Devi’s uniform is laid out at her home in Jaipur. Devi admits that it took her a while to grasp the realities of her job initially and the challenges included designing her own uniform.
She is the sole breadwinner for her family of three teenagers, all now pursuing their education. Authorities initially told Manju Devi that there were no women porters and hence it would be difficult for her working as one. But she persisted and was eventually given the badge number.
Manju Devi lost her husband 10 years ago. Overcoming family disputes and psychological hurdles, and encouraged by her mother Mohini, she acquired her husband Mahadev’s porter license no. 15 and took over the demanding task of hauling luggage at the Jaipur Railway Station.
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