By 2016, Pushpa Singh had completed a decade working as maintenance staff at Shyamchak railway station in West Bengal’s Kharagpur.
The mother of two would perhaps been quite content with her job, had a casually sexist joke not reached her ears.
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One of her male colleagues ridiculed women to be ‘weaker’ in terms of physical strength. He said that they could never work in hard labour jobs like the ‘keyman.’
“I have always loved challenges. This small remark stuck with me, and I took it up as a challenge to myself,” declares Pushpa.
This year, she has turned many heads by becoming one of the very few women in India’s history to work as a ‘keyman’ on railway tracks. Her job is to meticulously check and repair every inch of the railway track, to ensure the trains have a safe journey.
On Women’s Day 2019, the Central Railway Board awarded Pushpa for her “exemplary devotion to duty and for doing a job considered to belong to the male bastion.”
Her job is strenuous, to say the least. For Pushpa, a typical day is defined by around 10-km patrol along the tracks, be it in the sweltering summers or pouring rains.
From the wee hours of dawn, she sets out with her hammers, wrenches and detonators. “If there is an emergency, I have to rush immediately to the location, no matter what time it is,” she reveals. Her sincerity and passion is helping save the lives of thousands every day, who commute by trains.
Lifesaver During The Day; Doting Mother at Night
Her happiness was cut short by her husband’s death.
“He was a school teacher, and I received immense support and encouragement from him all along. I wouldn’t have been here today without him,” she shares.
The incident was a massive blow for Pushpa, who struggled for a while to cope with the reality. Thankfully, her colleagues consistently supported her to get back on track, literally.
Now, her day starts at 3 AM. The Shyamchak railway station is quite far from her home, so after cleaning the household, cooking for her kids and performing her daily puja, she mounts her motorcycle in a saree and rushes off to work.
There, she patrols the tracks from 5 AM onwards, for five continuous hours looking for any cracks or displacements. After a two hour recess, she has to perform all the necessary repairs and replacements throughout the afternoon. It is only after dark that she gets to go home to her son and daughter, who are diligent students. A doting mother, she then helps them with their homework.
Pushpa speaks with utmost humility, but the fire of determination is evident in her every word.
As the conversation comes to a close, I ask what she would advise other women who shy away from strenuous jobs fearing male domination. Explaining that no job is less risky than the other, Pushpa says, “Even if I am cooking at home, I am working with live fire. So, the risk remains, no matter what I do. But, no one should let fear overpower their strength.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)