With her driver-husband around, Damyanti Soni (57), was scared of driving, let alone handle a heavy monster machine. A decade back her husband died, leaving Soni with their two children. She had to quickly decide how she'd run her family. The first thing, she realised, was to overcome fear.
She went back on the wheels of those machines and off she went, with a perfect balance and her head held high. Her flawless driving was impressive enough for Tata-Hitachi to take her to Bengaluru to operate heavy vehicles and showcase her skills at the South Asia Construction Equipment Expo.
She was the only woman participant. Her performance stood out among the 32 male operators who came from eight countries. "Based on my performance, foreigners and Indian engineers in Bengaluru invited me to attend Auto Expo in Japan in March 2020, but the pandemic forced cancellation of the event," she says.
Soni was born in Gujarat's Kutch and shifted to Durg district in Chhattisgarh after her marriage in 1986. She finally settled at Cherjiti village in Rajnandgaon, about 85 km from the state capital Raipur. Her husband, Uttam Kumar Soni, was a small businessman who took contractual works on mining lease. He died in 2010, and then unfolded the story of her hardships.
The entire responsibility to look after the children fell on her shoulders. "I never wished to drive any four-wheeler. My husband prompted me to try my hands on a JCB excavator that he usually brought for his work. I took up the challenge. After his death when I landed in a helpless situation, I had to quickly shift my gears for the sustenance of my family," she says.
She now believes that women can be as good as men, maybe better, in handling heavy vehicles like earth-movers, JCB loaders, or trucks. In most places where she initially worked, the obvious question was how a woman could drive and operate the heavy loader vehicles. "She had the potential and soon received appreciation. The real reward came when I saw the responsive support coming for me," says Ram Manohar, an engineer engaged with the construction industry.
She battled all odds and got her daughter married in Gujarat and helped the son secure admission in mechanical engineering in Bilaspur district. "While I was in Bangalore, I could barely understand English. On the positive side, I could read, speak and write in Hindi language," she says.
Soon, she was contracted at construction or mining places. However, only the private sector offered her assignments. "Had my husband not motivated me, I wouldn’t have developed a passion for driving heavy vehicles," says Soni, who is educated up to Class 11 in Gujarati medium.
Battled odds after husband's death
Her husband was a small businessman who took contractual works on mining lease. He died in 2010, and then unfolded the story of her hardships. The onus to look after the children fell on her shoulders. She battled all odds and got her daughter married in Gujarat and helped the son secure an admission in mechanical engineering in Bilaspur district
Initial years of her struggle
In the initial years of struggle, she didn’t find much work, and whatever it earned her went into paying the loan that she took for her family and a JCB loader on lease. Damyanti now earns enough to "manage our needs". She is a prominent operator locally, logging at least 10 hours to earn her bread