Kolkata, Nov.25 : As cars roll into the parking lot of the shopping mall off the Eastern Bypass in Kolkata, the drivers are met with women parking attendants, a rare sight in India.
These women guide the cars into the earmarked slots. They put on the parking tickets and even collect the money with great aplomb.
An initiative by the Sabita Swanirbhar Goshti, this parking attendants venture has provided gainful employment to 11 underprivileged women in the Santoshpur area.
The women were struggling to make ends meet when Goshti came up with the idea.
Initially, the women themselves and their family members were reluctant about the work. They could not imagine that women could man a parking lot and collect parking fees from rude drivers. The safety of the women, due to the late working hours was also a matter of grave concern.
But the women, in dire economic conditions, finally decided to give the venture a change. Armed with a license from Kolkata Municipal Corporation and identity badges, the women took over the parking area in front of the Hiland Park Mall and Big Bazar. Initially the drivers tried to pull a fast one over the women but learnt to their cost that they would not be fooled so easily.
Most of the women parking attendants are totally dependent on their income from this venture. Pratima Mukherjee confesses that when her husband passed away in 2001, she never thought her son would be able to take up higher studies. Today, with her own income from this job, she is sending her son to attend a course on computer hardware. Mukherjee, herself a graduate, admits that given the family circumstances, she had given up hope of her son even completing matriculation. But this job had provided the entire family with a new lease of life.
"My husband died in 2001. My son was in class VII at the time. My economic condition was not good as I was un- employed. When my son passed Madhyamik (class X) somehow, I thought he would not be able to continue his education, but after joining this profession I got financial stability. Now my son is attending computer hardware classes. I hope my economic condition will improve more soon," said Mukherjee
"We charge Rs.7 for a car per hour. Our income depends on the number of vehicles here. We earn between Rs.600 and Rs.1200 every month but monsoons have always been unlucky for us. Another reason for fluctuation in our income is that other large malls have sprung up in the area, and cars have moved away to them. Our income depends on the number of cars, but our financial condition has still improved to a large extent," she added.
"Now, I run my family and my son can carry on with his studies, earlier it was impossible for me," Mukherjee said.
Purnima Sarkar was at her wits end, trying to make both ends meet. Her husband did not have a job. Despite objections from her in-laws she took up the parking attendant job and now says her economic condition has improved drastically since then.
"My husband had no job, we had no income then. Initially my family and in-laws were against me doing such an odd job on the roads as I am a woman. We faced some harassment from people and car drivers, they used foul language or passed adverse comments earlier but now we are able to handle the situation. Now my condition has improved too. I can buy some gifts for my son now but even a few years ago it was impossible. After we got the license from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) people don't pass any comment," Sarkar said
Minati Mondal too had toiled hard to make ends meet after she was widowed in 1998. Now, with a stable income from this venture, she is sending her eldest daughter to college and two other children to school.
"I do not see any difference between male and female in this profession. We also toil hard like men. Initially, we faced some difficulties but now everything is easy," Mondal said.
"We charge Rs.3 for each motor cycle for an hour and Rs.7 for four wheeler for an hour .The income varies, sometimes we get Rs.600, sometimes we get Rs.1100 or even Rs.1200, but not more than that," she added.
Khuku De said: "We have formed the Sabita Swanirbhar Gosthi in August, 2006 Our local councilor had suggested that we try to get jobs. My family had objected .I told them that no job was small. We had struggled with our families and the local people. Now we came here and got the license from KMC."
"We are 11 women under the Sabita Swanirbhar Gosthi, we divide the income among us. Our condition has improved. Initially the women were reluctant to join this profession but now even other women are keen to do this work . It is our success," she added.
The women earn an average of Rs 600-Rs 1200 per month, after the nominal license fee is paid to the Corporation. The monsoons are a bad time because the number of cars are less, but otherwise the income is more or less stable, the women say. With more malls coming up in the area, sometimes the car count is less, but overall the women are satisfied to have found gainful employment. They have also gained confidence in tackling sticking issues like when a driver is reluctant to pay the parking fees. They are now able to insist and receive the due payment, displaying firmness and unity amongst themselves.
Women have been proving that they are equal to men, if not better in doing most jobs. Even though mostly uneducated, these eleven women have shown that commitment to a cause can definitely open avenues for employment, however odd it might seem initially. By Ajitha Menon