For Pyaso Devi, every day is Woman’s Day.
For this 50-year-old resident of Dhanbad, using a heavy vehicle to haul coal — otherwise regarded as a man’s job — is a means to ensure that her five children are fed and educated. But every morning, when she roars her way up the uneven terrain of the open-cast Vishwakarma Project of the Bharat Coking Coal Limited , everybody knows that Devi is doing more than just earning her keep — she’s making a statement about gender equality.
“The job is risky,” says Devi. “It requires knowing how to operate heavy machinery, and the uneven surface of the collieries adds to the problem.”
This, however, is no reason for her to consider a change of occupation. “There is no work on earth that a man can do, but a woman cannot. Just give them a chance,” she says defiantly.
In 2008, Devi became the first woman from four lakh permanent and 1.5 lakh outsourced employees at the project to sit behind the wheel of a coal-hauling vehicle. She just needed to show the way — half a dozen female co-workers followed in her footsteps over the next five years.
Devi, a tribal, started off as a cable woman in the colliery after her husband died. “Since I know the hazards of mining and operating heavy machinery, no work looks dangerous to me,” she says.
IQ Khan, her manager at the Vishwakarma Project, couldn’t agree more. “She is more efficient and punctual in carrying out her duties than her male counterparts. She has never given me any reason to complain,” he says.
Devi, who couldn’t get an education, used to indulge in daredevilry from a very young age. Once, she even fought an angry bull while taking cattle out for grazing. And now, her bravery seems to have rubbed onto her three daughters — they all want to join the police when they grow up.