Women break stereotypes, now run machines in mines

Bhubaneswar: “We never rode a motorcycle but are now operating Heavy Earth Moving Machinery (HEMM),” says Santi Lakra, pointing out how women are demolishing the patriarchal dominance in mining and performing tasks requiring endurance and mental agility.

It is a welcome sign that women are seen operating HEMM at JSW, ironore mines in Joda-Koida region, which is indeed a first in the mining sub sector of Odisha.

According to JSW Steel (Odisha mines division), nine women HEMM operators are currently placed at Jajang mine, Keonjhar, while 32 others are undergoing training. “They have fully proved themselves, deploying their physical abilities and mental fortitude in their performance,” a company official said, adding, “These candidates underwent intensive training to hone their skills as HEMM operators. Post training, these women are deployed as assistant operators to
operate dumper, dozer, shovel and drill machines.”

Giving them opportunity to operate HEMM will surely boost their confidence to push for greater heights. Thirty-seven-year-old Santi Lakra feels that entering into a male-dominated sector and excelling in it has redefined her self-worth.  “When I got a chance to work here, I went through four-wheeler training to use the steering. Later, simulator orientation was very helpful. I have been riding dumpers from April 2022 in JSW Jajang Mine,” she proudly says.

Another operator Monika Devi has learned about operating different types of machines through field work and simulators. Devi said, “I have the endurance to go through physical exertion to learn things. The training period was fascinating as we were learning things from level zero.” Devi is all praises for the JSW management for their support during the training period.

“The trainers and existing operators are with us at every step and consistently motivate us to operate the machines ourselves so that we rise above any fear we may have. We are now more confident than we were in the beginning,” she adds.

Company report says 90 operators are currently undergoing training sessions of which close to 40% are female. Post training, they will be allowed to try on a simulator as a part of training purposes. Trainees go through three stages to get their license as an operator.

The company has recruited 5 experienced trainers to administer the module to the participants. The minimum educational qualification for the operator is matriculation. However, experienced women operators in mining sector are exempted from submission of educational qualification.

Operator Salu Ekka shared her experience and said, “Being an operator in mines was a  challenging task. I had to venture underground often. Operating heavy machinery was difficult as well. However, the fear phased out and I eventually gained confidence with immense support from the trainers and other staff,” she says.

So far, JSW Steel Odisha mining division has 47 female employees, 32 are trainees here for the operator works and 9 of them are already operating HEMM. Notably, 27 seven are recruited from Odisha. The company is expected to hire more from the region in upcoming days.

Odisha has been a leading state in supply of major minerals and contributes the largest value of mineral production in the country. In the mining growth-driven Odisha, mineral production has grown at 4.4 per cent annually for the last decade.

The mining and quarrying subsector contributes 8.29 per cent of state GVA. Mineral production generates huge revenue for the state. However, due to its capital intensive nature, mining does not contribute proportionately to employment generation in the state.

Going by PLFS 2019-20 data, 0.16 per cent of total workforce in Odisha is employed in the mining sector (source: Odisha Economic Survey). Of late women are gradually and firmly disrupting the hitherto male bastions and proving that they are ready to stand their ground and take on the world.

While in the capital city and major urban locations one is used to a high number of women successfully handling a range of job profiles, what is truly inspiring are stories of these women from very humble socio-economic backgrounds in Odisha’s hinterland shattering the myth that certain jobs can be done only by men.

Be it in physically-demanding sports, handling latest technology, demonstrating their prowess in security agencies or showing smart skills in financial management, young women are at par with their male counterparts and also faring better than the latter. This aspect is also amply evident in the state’s private sector with female workers taking up demanding jobs.

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