Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gujarat: End of Women Coolies

From the Times of India:
Bhavnagar is the only city in the country where all the porters are women.

Butrailway authorities are now showing the red flag. Officials say that railway rules allow badges to be transferred only to male heirs. They also claim that those who have applied for renewal of licences have been told so in writing. In the eyes of the railways, therefore, the women porters are operating illegally.

There’s another reason why the railways want to recruit male coolies. Bhavnagar station is expanding to accommodate increased passenger traffic and the general consensus is that women cannot transport goods from the original platform to the two new ones which are now being used for passenger trains.

Divisional manager Deepak Chabra says, “It is physically not possible for women to carry heavy luggage from one platform to another.”

The 130-year-old tradition of women porters began in 1880 when the original group of firebrand women coolies stormed this male bastion and got their badges from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, Krishna Pratapsinhji . The king had, in a revolutionary move, decided to employ three women porters at the station.

In time, it became a tradition for women porters to hand down their badges or armbands to their daughters or daughters-in-law . Today, the badges are considered a legacy passed on through generations — something to be flaunted on their arms with pride.

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