– Mohammed Atharulla Shareef
The brass badge on the feminine arm portraying ‘No.16 – Mysore Station, South-Western Railways’ is not a laurel but a symbol of self-esteem and courage of the lonely lady porter Rizwana Khanum.
“Just six years after the marriage when my husband breathed his last, leaving three children on my lap, I had no other choice than to step into his shoes to make both the ends meet,” says the widow of porter Javed Pasha.
She was the only bread earner in the eight members’ family. Apart from three orphans, her aging parents and parents-in-law were also dependent on her. Since she was unlettered and unskilled too, she thought of taking up the job of her deceased husband. But that was not easy too.
Without a licence, she cannot be a porter at the railway station. She approached the authorities with the help of her husband’s colleague. There was a reluctance in the department too as to how a woman can render this tough job. After persuasion and impressing them about her family conditions, the railway authorities were kind enough to grant her the porter licence on compassionate grounds.
When she ventured out to carry passengers’ luggage on her naïve shoulders, neighbours and relatives raised their eyebrows in wonder but nobody helped her to stay back home. Certainly, it was not a show of her strength but a determination to be self-reliant and bring up the orphans and other dependents gracefully.
Initially she used to take painkiller pills before going to bed just to enable herself to carry on the job next day. Every morning is very hectic as she has to finish the cooking and kitchen work before leaving for the station by 6 o’clock. Many a time the passengers ignore her, thinking that she cannot carry the heavy luggage. But some passengers pay extra money also, admiring her hard and efficient work.
The 60 and odd male porters are kind and cooperative too, she admires. Ten to 11 hours of daily hard labour has now toughened her. She is strong enough to work without any painkiller now.
Covid -19 was a tough time, she says. Since life had come to a standstill and no job at the railway station, she sold tea to make a living, she recalls.
A decade has passed now, her children are grown up and one daughter is married away. There is a burden of loan which she took for daughter’s marriage but she is managing the affairs confidently. After her story was flashed in the media, some philanthropists did help her. She is around 45 now.