In 2007, B. Divya dropped out of school in class XI after her father died of a heart attack. Life was not easy for this resident of Kattankulathur, an extended suburb beyond Tambaram, as her father was the sole bread winner.
Now, her life is headed in a new direction with Divya being appointed as a temporary driver of a battery-operated vehicle at Arignar Anna Zoological Park (Vandalur zoo).
The 23-year-old is among the 10 women recruited on a temporary basis to drive the battery-operated vehicles that take visitors around the zoo spread over 602 hectares (1,505 acres).
“My father earned less than Rs. 10,000 when he was alive but we managed with the modest income. His demise was a big blow to my family,” Divya said.
The women report for work by 8 a.m. The 10 battery cars that are charged overnight are assembled near the ticket counter and from 9 a.m., the women drive the zoo visitors around.
“It is a good initiative. Nowhere else in the country have I seen women employed to operate battery cars,” said Susy David of Madurai, who visited the zoo with her husband, children and grandchildren, and was driven around by one of the women.
Diploma holder Rajalakshmi Munusamy (21) said she enrolled in a driving school and practised hard to secure the job at the zoo. “My father is a dhobi and my mother is a tailor. When I learned of the vacancy at the zoo, I was keen to secure the position,” said the Selaiyur resident.
The women earn a fixed monthly salary of Rs. 5,500 and are familiar with the English and Tamil names of zoo animals.
The families of the young women said if the government were to regularise their positions and employ them on a permanent basis, it would be a boon to the women, all of who belong to low-income groups.
“The job gives us immense satisfaction, though it is temporary,” said another driver, Rajalakshmi Pushparaj, mother of three.
Zoo authorities said the battery-operated vehicles were introduced in 2008. Each vehicle can carry 12 people, including the driver. The regular diesel-powered vehicles and vans used for the lion safari are operated by men.
A one-hour drive around the zoo covers 3.5 kilometres and on an average, the women do 4 to 5 trips a day.