Trucking is not easy, whether be it driving or repairing. With late nights of heavy machinery and operations far beyond normal strength, the truck mechanic profession is a demanding career that often requires will more than strength. Since it began, it has been anything but a male-dominated profession. Rarely would you see a sight of a woman mechanic as a whole, leave aside a truck mechanic.
But as it is said- wonders can happen naturally as the rain falls, Shanti Devi is dramatically changing the trucking stereotype for the better. Amid the hustling lanes of Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar in the national capital of Delhi lies a garage of 60-year-old Shanti Devi seen repairing punctured tires and fixing the truck engine.
Shanti Devi is slowly closing the gender gap in the trucking industry, but women still have to prove their place.
Shanti Devi aged 60 is believed to be India’s first female truck mechanic. But she hasn’t always been a one, in fact, she hailed from a poor background. Devi was born in Gwalior to a construction worker. She worked all her life to support her family and did all sorts of odd jobs like sewing and stitching. Later, she married with her own savings of Rs.4,000. But soon Devi lost her first husband at the fire in JC Mills on May 12 in Madhya Pradesh. She had four kids at that time.
But Shanti Devi never lost hope and married again in Delhi to a man who already had 4 kids from his previous marriage just like Shanti. In her early years, Devi used to run a tea stall. Her second husband supported the family by pulling rickshaws. Eventually, the tea stall business bloomed and her husband joined her. Within a few years, the couple saved enough money to buy an engine, tanks, and other tools to start a truck repair shop in order to generate more income. The husband-wife duo had the responsibility of a total of 8 children from their previous marriage and thus having a stable source of income was more than needed.
Initially, it was her husband who used to do all the hard labor while Shanti just helped him briefly, but later as the business bloomed Devi also started learning the art of fixing trucks. Her husband was her biggest supporter and teacher and he taught her the basics of engine, tires, and usage of tools. There were times when Shanti would get injured regularly due to the hefty labor required in the profession, but her passion changed it all. She believed in herself and this belief in hard work paid off.
They started earning more than Rs.900 a day which was earlier restricted to just Rs.300 with a tea stall. Shanti is now fondly referred to as ‘masterji’. It has been about 35 years since Shanti is working as a truck mechanic. Ever since she has been doing this job with pride and though it’s a heavily male-dominated profession, she couldn’t care any less.
“Sangharsh Jeevan ka atoot hissa hain” says 60 years old Shanti Devi in an interview with The Citizen.
On average about 25 to 30 women work in the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, however, their job is restricted to simpler chores like working at a tea stall or a Dhaba. Since Shanti is the only one working as a truck mechanic, many men often doubt her caliber and question her skills. Though her husband was always supportive and answered all those stereotypes strongly. With time, Shanti excelled in the art and would manage the whole shop singlehandedly.
Thanks to this, today Shanti Devi is an independent woman and works alone fiercely as her husband passed away a couple of years earlier due to cardiac arrest. Shanti Devi reflects on the younger generation and says that the generation today lacks the determination to change their lives. They are not very resilient and succumb to the challenges of life very easily. The only mantra of life is to FIGHT, fight hard.