At the wheel, at all times

Perumbalam Island-resident Sandhya, 44, toughed it out to rise above her circumstances and become the first woman with a srank licence in the state, reports Biju E Paul 
S Sandhya managing a passenger boat in the Alappuzha backwaters | Express
S Sandhya managing a passenger boat in the Alappuzha backwaters | Express

ALAPPUZHA: Sandhya has been living it tough for the past 25 years. Perumbalam Island, which she calls home, has limited connectivity to the mainland, with the ferry service of the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD) the sole link. In case of emergencies, residents have to depend on country boats. A strong-willed Sandhya made it a point to learn how to row boats with small oars from a very early age. After marriage, her husband bought a small outboard engine and matted it to their boat, and she learned to commandeer the motorised vessel. 

When increased traffic and demands for faster transportation through the backwaters started pushing smaller boat into insignificance, Sandhya decided to learn to sail larger passenger boats and houseboats. In 2017, she attained a ‘lascar’ licence to handle such boats. She then started working on boats, helping sranks (serangs or captains) tie vessels to anchoring points and looking after the safety of passengers. As ambitious as she was, Sandhya was not content. She decided to put in the hours to make srank, and she landed the licence last November -- becoming the first woman from the state with the licence to handle vessels with capacity of up to 226 HP. 

Getting the licence was a herculean task, say the 44-year-old. “Studying the rules and regulations under the Kerala Inland Vessels (KIV) Rules 2010 proved a big challenge. There were even times when I decided to quit. However, support from the family proved crucial,” she says. “Anchoring a boat to a jetty, especially in rough seas, is very difficult. I had to think past my experience with country boats to handle larger vessels and obtain the srank licence.  Now I can handle passenger boats, housesboats, and even huge barges,” says Sandhya, a mother of two. 

The test was arranged at the port department office in Alappuzha in two segments. The first involved driving and controlling boats. The department later arranged the written segment on the complicated rules and regulations. I managed to clear it on my first attempt. A two-year lascar experience is mandatory for the srank licence, says Sandhya. 

Her husband Mani is a loading and unloading worker at the Food Corporation of India godown in Angamali. Her daughters, Hari Lakshmi and Hari Krishna, are students. “I hope my achievements will encourage more women to enter the field of water transport. It will open up new job opportunities for them,” she added.

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