In the past decade or more, Lucknow’s Gomti Nagar has evolved as a prime location for people to occupy lavish properties. From malls to tech parks, and cafes to high rise buildings, Gomti Nagar residents live in a world of their own. According to some estimates, the population of Gomti Nagar will reach 13 lakh by 2021.
Over the years, the city has also seen a rise in the number of the vehicles ( 19.1 million vehicles in UP). As a result, several petrol pumps have opened up to cater to these increased fuel demand.
Many women too have started working on these petrol pumps. However, there is a flipside to this supposedly rosy side to Lucknow’s development. These women are exposed to the fumes of fuel causing health hazards. The benzene content of complex fuel mixtures is a possible hazard to workers. Not so long back a survey revealed how in and around Lucknow, some pump attendants complained of a headache, fatigue, disturbed sleep, loss of memory, giddiness and weakness.
Adding to this experience is the constant acts of voyeurism and sexual misconduct that women petrol pump employees are subjected to. Women workers in petrol pumps in areas like Khargapur city are finding it hard to steer past the stress. Overworked and underpaid, they face an uncertain future.
Saumya, an attendant at the Khargapur petrol pump who switched over from a job at a manufacturing unit, is one among many such women petrol pump workers who fear safety but stick to the job for survival.
Saumya has been working at the petrol pump for two years and shudders to recall her life at a garment unit where her life was worse than a slave. Saumya’s day starts early, and it goes on till hours after sunset. The constant sniggering, lewd comments, verbal harassment, and cases of molestation have only made things worse for many like her. Students on two-wheelers try to make passes as they see these women working.
Despite these obstacles, these women have proven that where there is a will, there is a way. None of the ladies work after 7 pm. They do a regular roster which has an eight-hour shift.
It is only in the recent two to three years that oil company-operated pumps have started employing women. These women are often employed as cashiers-cum-attendants.
When asked about their fears, another women attendant in of the petrol pumps said, “My parents do not want me to work in a petrol pump as they know the society, but I have to work as without money there is nothing in life.”
In a bid to make the world safer for women, Rs 3,000 crore was sanctioned for the women safety programme under the Nirbhaya fund after the infamous Delhi gangrape. Rs 195 crore had allocated for Lucknow.
Even as we count days for Durga Puja, invisible working class heroines like Poonam and Saumya fight patriarchy and emerge as the young goddesses. One can only hope, the feminine form will not just be worshipped in pandals and temples, but also in real life.