Women in Odisha's tribal-dominated Keonjhar district are now operating Heavy Earth Moving Machinery (HEMM) in Joda-Koida mining region.

Nine women are engaged by JSW Steel in such operations.

Thirty-seven-year-old Shanti Lakra said, "We never rode a motorcycle but are now operating HEMM."

She said women are demolishing the patriarchal dominance in mining and performing tasks requiring endurance and mental agility.

According to JSW Steel (Odisha mines division), nine women HEMM operators are currently placed at Jajang mine, Keonjhar, while 32 others are undergoing training.

"They have fully proved themselves, deploying their physical abilities and mental fortitude in their performance," a company official said, adding, "these candidates underwent intensive training to hone their skills as HEMM operators. Post training, these women are deployed as assistant operators to operate dumper, dozer, shovel and drill machines."

Giving them the opportunity to operate HEMM will surely boost their confidence to push for greater heights. Thirty-seven-year-old Santi Lakra feels that entering into a male-dominated sector and excelling in it has redefined her self-worth.

"When I got a chance to work here, I went through four-wheeler training to use the steering. Later, simulator orientation was very helpful. I have been riding dumpers since April 2022 in JSW Jajang mine," she says.

Another woman operator Monika Devi has learned about operating different types of machines through field work and simulators. Devi said, "I have the endurance to go through physical exertion to learn things. The training period was fascinating as we were learning things from zero."

"The trainers and existing operators helped us at every step and consistently motivate us to operate the machines ourselves so that we rise above any fear we may have. We are now more confident than we were in the beginning," she added.

The company has recruited five experienced trainers to administer the module to the participants. The minimum educational qualification for the operator is matriculation (Class 10). However, experienced women operators in mining sector are exempted from submission of educational qualification.

Another woman operator Salu Ekka said, "Being an operator in mines was a challenging task. I had to venture underground often. Operating heavy machinery was difficult as well. However, the fear vanished and I eventually gained confidence with immense support from the trainers and other staff."

So far, JSW Steel Odisha mining division has 47 female employees, 32 are trainees here for the operator work and nine of them are already operating HEMM.