Young women are increasingly making inroads into the traditionally male-dominated automobile industry

A skeleton begins its journey from a naught. Dextrous hands give it shape and bring it to life — mounting batteries, loading engines, connecting wirings, plugging in nuts, inserting bolts, and the virgin body transitions along the workstations from an empty frame to a ready-to-ride scooter in less than 55 seconds. What set this Yamaha assembly line in Uttar Pradesh’s Surajpur apart are the hands that guide the mechanisation. They are not the traditional rough-cut male hands but those of young, determined women who have boldly broken into this male fortress.

Didi mazaa aata hain. Hum ladko ka kaam kar rahe hain aur bakhubi kar rahe hain (It is fun. I am doing something which is traditionally a man’s job and I am doing it well),” asserts 23-year-old Vijaya, her face exuding the confidence of an independent girl who supports her family, has two LIC policies to her name and dreams of becoming a NGO owner someday. Dressed in blue jeans and sweater, there is nothing in her appearance that would tells us that she hails from a small village near Ghaziabad. She earns Rs. 6,000 stipend at India Yamaha Motors per month. 

This all-women assembly line for manufacturing Yamaha Ray scooters employs over 200 women Industrial Training Institute (ITI) students giving them practical hands-on the trade.

“We wanted to have a programme which is a win-win for both the company and employees; so we approached the State government to award ITI certificate to girls who enrol at our comprehensive training programme. Under this, the girls have to complete three years of theoretical training on their own and we give them practical hands-on on our shop floor, along with some classroom sessions. They have to clear ITI exam at the end of each year,” says P.P. Sharma, human resource manager at India Yamaha Motors. The work shift stretches from 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. and entails a target of rolling out approximately 500 scooters every day.

“Traditionally, under the ITI structure, only the last year is spent on the shop floor but we got this exception from the State government for all the three years. Also, unlike a car or a motorbike, a scooter’s parts are not as heavy and can be managed will lesser strength,” Mr. Sharma adds. 

Twenty-one-year-old Anuradha, who scored a 58 per cent in her Class X board exams, travels for two hours to the plant every morning. From village Hapur near Moradabad district, she says she always wanted to be a police officer. “My father was reluctant to send me so far but we had no choice. We needed the money. I have to help my father support the family. It is my dream to give good education to my two younger brothers.” Anuradha is a group leader, who looks into vehicle faults.  

“The women are mostly in the age bracket of 18-23 years, coming from rural and semi-urban background. They are going through a cultural transition themselves. This is perhaps their first opportunity to step out. Fifty per cent of the apprentices that we have hired are locals,” says Mr. Sharma. 

Nineteen-year-old Pooja Mittal supports her mother and is also pursuing Bachelors in Commerce from a college in Ghaziabad. She hopes to do her Masters in Business Administration and work in a bank some day.

The auto-component industry in India has been employing women for many years now. Motherson Sumi Systems Limited, an auto-component maker set up in 1986 and known for making automotive wiring harnesses and mirrors for passenger cars in India, has been employing women since its inception for its assembly operations. “Our rhythmic assembly operations require soft handling and certain amount of dexterity. Women workforce fit the bill completely. More than 50 per cent of our workforce is women,” says Pankaj Mital, COO, Motherson Sumi Systems Limited.

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