Shanti Devi: India’s Only Female Truck Mechanic (Feature Story)

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Shanti Devi started a tea shop with her husband on a main trucking routein Delhi. They then diversified and opened a workshop. We meet one of a few women truck mechanics in India who also offers some simple advice about life…

I find it quite strange to see people looking at me with surprise when I am replacing truck tyres. But to me, there’s no such thing as a job for men or a job for women exclusively.

I believe in following my heart. I do not adhere to parameters set by others.

My husband, Ram Bahadur and I are a team and I can say with confidence that I juggle my job and my household duties with ease. I am as comfortable cooking for the family and working on the sewing machine as I am fixing a punctured tyre at our workshop – AW-7, Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar (SGTN) in Delhi.

My husband and I arrived in Delhi from Madhya Pradesh more than 20 years ago. Ram was working in a textile mill in Gwalior but gave it up and moved to Delhi in search of greener pastures. After moving to Delhi, he took up sundry jobs and even pulled a rickshaw for a while. We then tried our hand at farming. When that failed, we decided to open a tea shop at the SGTN. It was a decision that changed our lives.

SGTN is spread over an area of more than 75 acres and is reportedly the largest trucking stopover point in Asia. Over 70,000 trucks are parked here at any given time and around 20,000 trucks pass by every day, so you can imagine how well a tea shop would do here.

We did very well and soon we had to hire an extra hand to run it. We decided to diversify.

Because we were in the midst of so many trucks, we felt opening a mechanic shop would make sense. We bought tools and I began learning to do minor repairs on trucks.

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It’s true that I work in a largely male dominated environment.

Considering the tea shop’s success and its ideal location, opening a workshop made perfect sense. In the beginning, men would stare at me, probably wondering what I was doing in this stereotypically masculine profession, but things have changed. Nowadays, more women are starting to join their husbands by helping them run the family business.

Venturing into something new is never easy.

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Looking back, I can say that it has been an absolutely worthwhile experience. It does not bother me when people say that I must be one of the only female truck mechanics in India – I am proud of this.

I learnt all about automobiles and changing tyres by watching my husband and other mechanics while they were working. Today, I know that I am a better mechanic than many men and prove it through my work every day. I believe a woman can do any job if she has a passion for it. Men still look at me with surprise and interest as I go about my job.

There have been occasions when drivers have hesitated to give me work.

They believe that I would not be able to do it. Some even offer to lend a helping hand. When they see that I am quite capable at lifting and moving heavy tyres with ease on my own, they give me a reassuring – although perhaps slightly sheepish – smile. I have earned their respect and have developed a healthy relationship with regular customers.

I come from a poor background, but wouldn’t let circumstance get the better of me.

I was born in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. My father Ganga Ram worked in a jewellery shop. Since we were very poor, my mother, Jamuna, would take up odd jobs to supplement our income.

I have three brothers and three sisters. Being the eldest, it was my responsibility to look after the household and keep my younger siblings in line. I became the central figure in their lives at a very young age and, although I do not like saying it, I was instrumental in shaping their lives. While I never went to school, I insisted that all of them study. I protected them to some degree but also ensured that they did not waste their time.

I decided to do something to contribute to my family’s income.

I hired a sewing machine for Rs150 (about Dh12) a month from a tailor and after finishing the household chores, I would make clothes. Cutting patterns and sewing came naturally to me and I started getting regular orders from other tailors.

My parents were surprised by my initiative because I hadn’t undergone any basic training in sewing, nor had I gone to school. Although I did not know how to read and write, I still managed to take measurements.

I am proud to say that all my brothers and sisters are well established today.

One of my brothers is a lawyer now. I helped all of them get married and used my own savings to get married to the man my parents chose for me.

The greatest treat for my husband and I is taking leave from work to visit our children.

We have six daughters and two sons. They are all married and have settled in different states. I have travelled around India with my husband; we love travelling together – it recharges our batteries.

There have been two phases in my life.

The first was during the early years of my life when I was supporting my brothers and sisters. The second was after I was married.

My husband has always provided me with tremendous and unwavering support. He never discouraged me from doing anything that I wanted to do.

I feel that you can learn a lot from your relationships in life.

I also realise that compromises are necessary in any relationship. My husband and I are absolutely compatible. I think that our bond lies in the fact that we do everything together. There is nothing that we cannot resolve as a team. I believe working together is very important in any relationship.

Five years ago we bought our own house.

We have seen struggling times together and are happy now. I do not have to work after returning home as our daughters-in-law manage the house.

I feel it is very important for girls to study so that they can be independent.

It is always good to be adept at a specific skill. I feel blessed that I could make the most of the opportunities that life gave me.

Life has taught me not to sit and brood over any situation.

Rather, I work towards improving it. It was during the low points of my life that I learnt the most valuable lessons. Bad times do not last forever. Life is a constant learning process.

I feel that success depends on an individual’s determination to succeed.

Since I am not educated, I never set any professional goals in life. There is nothing you can do to change your past, but there is a lot one can learn from it. You could think of life as being full of misery, but if you treat every day as a new challenge, your entire perspective changes.

Presented By: Nilima Pathak

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