For over seven years now, G. Valli has been doing her part to keep the city clean.

Every night, she sweeps Chennai’s streets, and meticulously removes any and all garbage. An employee of the Chennai Municipal Solid Waste Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of Ramky Enviro Engineers, the 34-year-old has been on night shifts for the past nine months.

“We have two daughters and I need to get them ready for school in the mornings and it was inconvenient for me to leave for work then. So I moved from the day shift to the night shift. I leave my home in Old Washermenpet at 6.45 p.m. and take two trains to reach Madhya Kailash. Work begins at 8 p.m. and I walk to Adyar signal where I sign the register. We are done by 4.30 a.m. I reach home by 6 a.m., just in time to make breakfast for my children,” she says.

Tuesdays, her weekly off days are special — she gets to sleep all night.

Valli began working when there was a financial crisis at home. Her husband Gopi, an autorickshaw driver, was earlier a daily wage labourer. “We needed the money and since many women from our area took up this job, I too signed up. It is hard work but it pays the rent,” she said. Her husband brings home around Rs. 4,500 a month, which is barely enough to meet expenses.

At night, though vehicles drive past the women at top speed, their fluorescent coats protect them. For every four women to a group, a male colleague is stationed close by.

“There is no danger in this work. We work as teams and over the years, all of us have become friends,” Valli says, of her occupation.

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