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Peek into the life of first female coolie in Rajasthan

By Arun Sharma & Vedika Singhania
May 27, 2018 18:33 IST

Meet Manju Devi, porter number 15, who overcame all odds to stand tall and become one of the 112 women achievers of the nation. 

IMAGE: Manju became a coolie after she lost her husband 10 years ago. She had to struggle to convince the authorities of letting her take over her husband's job. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

Manju Devi stands tall in her fraternity, being the first woman porter of the North-West Railways, in a profession that is considered a male bastion. 


IMAGE: Manju Devi wears porters’ licence badge number 15. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

She has been the sole breadwinner for her three teenage children. She lost her husband 10 years ago.

IMAGE: Manju Devi looks on as she shares a relaxed moment with her male colleagues, in Jaipur. Manju is the only woman in Rajasthan to be a porter and stands tall in a profession that is considered only a male bastion. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

After overcoming family disputes and psychological hurdles and encouraged by her mother Mohini, Devi acquired her deceased husband Mahadev’s porter licence no. 15 and took to the demanding task of hauling luggage of passengers at the Jaipur Railway Station.

Authorities initially told her there were no women porters and hence it would be difficult for her. But she persisted and eventually given the badge number, she said.

IMAGE: Manju Devi hauls luggage of a passenger inside a train compartment, at the railway station in Jaipur. She jokes that often the weight of the bags she carries is as much as her. Even though her work is back-breaking, she has a smile on her face. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

It took her a while to get a grasp of the realities of her job and the challenge included designing her own uniform. Now, clad in a red kurta and black salwar, she sets out every day to work in multiple shifts, to make ends meet for her family.

IMAGE: Manju, a female porter, is all smiles as she poses for a photo outside the porters waiting room. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

Devi was among 112 women who were felicitated by the ministry of women and child development, besides former beauty queens -- Aishwarya Rai and Nicole Faria -- mountaineer Bachendri Pal, Anshu Jamsenpa, missile woman Tessy Thomas and private detective Rajani Pandit.

IMAGE: Manju with her children, at their home in Jaipur. She is the sole breadwinner for her family of three teenagers, all now pursuing their respective education. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

She was among a gathering of 90 women achievers from different backgrounds at Rashtrapati Bhavan on January 20, this year and President Ram Nath Kovind had said that he got “emotional” on hearing her story.

IMAGE: Manju Devi respectfully places her licence plate to her forehead in a gesture of gratitude for enabling her financial independence. Manju stands tall in her fraternity, being the first woman coolie (porter) of North Western Railway. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

“I weighed 30 kg and the passengers’ luggage was also 30 kg, but it was nowhere to the burden of feeding three children,” Devi narrates in jest.

IMAGE: A set of railway porter Manju Devi's uniform lies at her home in Jaipur. She sets out every day to work in multiple shifts in a uniform she designed -- red kurta and black salwar. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photos

Arun Sharma & Vedika Singhania
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