BENGALURU: Fifty-nine-year-old A V Chandraprabha has created history in the 54-year-old Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). She assumed office as the first woman engineer of the wastewater management department of the Board on May 2, thanks to the Supreme Court directive slashing consequential seniority in promotions in state government departments for specific categories.
One feels as if history is being witnessed when the name board of past incumbents behind her present seat displays an all-male list with her name at the end. However, it will be a short stint as she will retire on May 30 after 37 years of service. In 1981, Chandraprabha joined the Water supply department as an Assistant Engineer in the Investigations and Design department.
After some training at the head office, this Electrical Engineering graduate was posted at Tataguni pumping station, located 22 kms from Bengaluru. The engineer was the only woman among nearly 150 BWSSB employees there. Maintenance of mammoth motors and pumps, reading voltmeters, throttling valves and maintaining a log book of all readings was part of her daily routine. She was literally on her feet all day.
Breaking ingrained patriarchal attitudes was her first challenge. The engineer vividly remembers this incident in which she reprimanded one of the workers for handling the pumps in a rough manner. Pat came the chap’s response to his lady boss, “What do you know about such things?”
It is a different matter that Chandraprabha took hold of a big screwdriver lying in the vicinity and told him in an authoritative tone, “You will do what I tell you. I have better technical knowledge than you.” The individual mellowed down. A few colleagues then even ventured to ask her, “What made you opt for a male profession like Engineering and not Medicine or teaching?” After the Cauvery Second Stage was commissioned, she was put in charge of maintaining it as well as the First stage.
Bitter opposition from her relatives when she opted to “study a course meant for men” marked her entry into her five-year B.E.degree at UVCE in Bengaluru, in 1975. Her father, the late A. Venugopal, a retired Army soldier turned businessman, backed her dreams solidly. “My mother D. Susheelamma passed away when I was just 6 years. My father took on the role of a mother too for me, my older sister and younger brother and was a constant encouragement,” she recalls nostalgically.
It has taken her a really long time to reach the top. BWSSB took 23 years to promote her from the initial position to Assistant Executive Engineer in 2004. She took another ten years to get promoted as an Executive Engineer. In 2017, she became an Additional Chief Engineer (ACE) and finally Chief Engineer this month.
“I always wanted to do something which very few women would do. It is still to sink in that I have actually done it now,” she says “I would like to emphasise that my male bosses were very encouraging and offered me much support throughout,” the Chief Engineer adds. Another interesting role she performed in the BWSSB was heading the committee which deals with sexual harassment of women at the workplace for five years.