If you have ever travelled by train anywhere in India, you know how the typical scene goes. You enter the railway station and immediately become a part of a frenzied crowd, where everyone is dragging their heavy luggage and hurrying to get to their designated platforms.
Among the frantic passengers, you will also spot men wearing bright red shirts or kurtas, standing together near a wall or a trolley.
These men know exactly when you need their help, and will safely carry your luggage and deposit it in the compartment—sometimes even if the train has already started!
However, if you happen to board the train from the Jabalpur Railway Station in Madhya Pradesh, there is a slight change of scene.
According to media reports, Sandhya Marawi, a 30-year-old woman, is among the 45-odd porters at the Jabalpur station and works shoulder to shoulder with her colleagues. Wearing her red uniform, a cloth headgear to help balance the bags, and the golden badge of her number on her arm, Sandhya is equally efficient as any other porter at the station.
If this breaking of stereotypes impresses you, know this—Sandhya travels over 40 km every day to get to her work ‘station’. She lives in the Kundam village and travels to Jabalpur Railway Station on a daily basis.
What made Sandhya take up a job at a place which is located at a distance of over forty kilometres from her hometown?
In 2016, Sandhya’s husband, who also worked as a porter, passed away due to a prolonged illness. Suddenly, the responsibility of raising three very young children and providing for a family of five (which also includes her mother-in-law) fell on her shoulders.
It was becoming difficult for Sandhya to go on, and she began to approach people for help. Eventually, she secured this job in the Katni station. In a few months, she was transferred to the Jabalpur station since her hometown is over a hundred kilometres from Katni.
Determined to help her family live in comfort, Sandhya took upon herself to travel far every day to earn enough for her family.
For now, Sandhya bears the burden of carrying the luggage of passengers all day so that she can shoulder the responsibility of her family with relative ease.
She is neither the first woman coolie or the only one. But her determination to help her family live a comfortable life is indeed inspirational. So the next time you board a train from Jabalpur, you know which coolie number to look out for.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)