Most persons shopping at the glossy, air-conditioned textile shops at the busy bazaar streets here might not have thought of how the saris, churidhars and other clothes have got onto the fully-lit showcases. If they took a moment to visit the freight entrance of the shops, they would have noticed the hard labour of hundreds of persons, including a woman, toiling with the bundles of clothes.
In the male-dominated work of loading/unloading, S. Prema has been toiling for the past 20 years, carrying bundles weighing about 70 to 80 kg on her back.
S. Prema, a mother of two children, is working as a ‘load woman’ in the bazaar area of Panneerselvam Park. She transports more than 100 bundles between the booking offices and textile stores in her bullock cart everyday. She carries the heavy bundles on her back and loads them on the cart. She also unloads them too.
Though her husband S. Selvam (40) is also a load man, Prema often works alone so that the couple can earn more. She starts her work early in the morning and it goes up to 11 p.m.
“I had been doing this job since I was 18. I got married at the age of 15 and came to live with my husband at Valiyakaraveethi. After we had two children, we found it hard to make the ends meet with the meagre earnings of my husband. So, I took up this job,” she says.
Prema and her husband manage to make around Rs. 2,000 to 3,000 a week. “But, we spend at least Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 towards the cattle feed and maintenance of the bulls,” she says.
Prema has no regrets about taking the job of a load woman. “I know this is male-dominated area. But I was determined to give best education to my children and I had the courage that I could do this work, though it is hard,” she said.
Prema's daughter Revathi is now pursuing a nursing course in Coimbatore after completing her schooling, while her son Manikandan is studying Class X in a government school. “I do not want my children to end up in a job like this. I want them to have a better life. So, I do not mind carrying bundles on my back,” she added.