Stories of women restorers

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Workspace and tools in an electrical repair shop. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar

Think of a shoemaker or electrical appliance repairman, you can imagine a man at work. But Bengaluru has quite a few women working in these fields traditionally occupied by men. This article traces some of these trips.

Palaniyammal, 54, is the only female shoemaker on 80 Feet Road, with her store located near the upscale residential areas of Thippasandra and Indiranagar. She works from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. She fondly remembers her late husband’s insistence that she visit the store. She learned the job by watching it. After her death, she slipped discreetly into her “shoemaker” shoes.

Woman repairing shoemaker at her workspace on the footpath
Palaniyammal at his workspace on the trail at 80 Feet Road in Thippasandra. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar

Palaniyammal was from a village in Tamil Nadu and his education was limited. But despite the obstacles, she continues to work and support her family. Today, her children share her responsibilities. Palaniyammal specializes in the repair of suitcases, chappals, shoes, bags, sofas and more.


Read more: How to guarantee fair rights to workers in the odd-job economy?


Woman repairing tailor at her workspace
Jaya in her workspace at MITU. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar

Jaya, 37, works in a sewing unit. She trained as a sewing machine controller to find a job in the garment industry. She has not received any formal education, but she can sign her name. Her husband worked at a gas pump and the constant exposure to the fumes cost him his sight. Since then, she has been the sole breadwinner. Jaya found a job at MITU (Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment), an NGO for the empowerment of women, two years ago and earns between Rs 150 and Rs 200 per day.

Jaya devotes just over two hours a day to housework and MITU allows flexible hours. She brings work home when there are bulk orders. She is comforted that her daughters are now old enough to help.

Jaya believes the pandemic has taught her a big lesson as a parent. That her children need to learn other skills and not just depend on formal education. During the pandemic, the jobs that fed families, especially among the working class, were not necessarily formal jobs but mostly informal jobs.


Read more: Adapt to Survive: Stories from Workers in the Repair Economy


woman works in electrical repair shop
Manjula works in an electrical repair shop. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar

Manjula, 40, runs an electrical repair shop with her husband. Based in Mathikere, she has been running the store for 20 years. She studied up to the 10th standard in Kannada medium. She learned to repair electrical gadgets by observing her husband’s work. Today, her husband provides home repair services such as house wiring, geyser repairs and switchboard wiring while she runs the mixer, fan, stove, iron box and repair shop. Cook.

Manjula now manages the electrical workshop alone. She has earned the trust of her clients through hard work and tact. As a woman repairer, her store attracts many women with kitchen appliances to repair. She is comfortable with Paytm and other UPI payment transactions to make it convenient for customers.

For Manjula, her routine remains unchanged: waking up early, preparing breakfast, washing clothes and occasionally looking after elderly family members. His shop is open from morning to noon. She goes home for lunch with her husband. In the evening, the shop is open until 8 p.m. His daughters do not aspire to run the store.

A woman in a man’s domain is no longer a novelty

There are a lot of women in repair work in Bengaluru. Palaniyammal and his sons are sometimes harassed by local authorities, but they resolve issues amicably. The extended family also makes a living in the same way. Her sister is also a shoemaker and runs a similar store in nearby Domlur. Her brother built a five-story house near Koramangala, where the family lives together.

She has many male clients who first questioned her skills at work when her husband passed away. But she held on, steadfast in her belief that quality and consistency are what matters most. Palaniyammal’s income has since increased from Rs 30-100 per day to Rs 500-600 per day.

For Palaniyammal, the effort to balance the needs of children, family and running the store is like walking a tightrope. Palaniyammal’s eldest son proudly declares that his mother is able to complete the housework in less than two hours. She barely sleeps seven hours and gets up at five in the morning. Her daughter takes care of household chores while she is away.

Woman repairing shoemaker at her sidewalk workspace with a client
Palaniyammal at his workplace. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar

The customer decides: Repair or replace

The trend may be to throw away old or broken items, but the efforts of these women are an important part of the circular economy.

Manjula’s husband says they collect parts from discarded appliances and avoid Chinese products. Many customers prefer to buy refurbished products rather than repair their item. About a third of their income comes from the sale of refurbished products. The couple offers consumers a wider choice by offering them reconditioned or repaired products as well as new products.

The couple buy most of the spare parts at the town market. Manjula negotiates the price according to customer preference. For example, a mixed coupler is available at Rs 20-50. The fees for repair services depend on the preferences of the customer, so a fixed rate strategy does not work for them. They keep a range of spare parts in their store, spare parts like blades, couplers; spare parts of the stove such as the gasket; motor spare parts like armature, motor, fan, switch, brackets, MCB, bush (carbon), aluminum base, plastic, metal base for mixed grinder, mixed cup, etc.

The practice of salvaging spare parts is also widespread among aftermarket tailors. A shop collects a plethora of raw materials like buttons and threads from old clothes, especially for touch-up work. These tailors stock 25 to 30 types of buttons and over 20 colors of thread.

spare parts collected in a sewing workshop
Spare parts recovered. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar
new spare parts in a modification tailor's shop
New spare parts. Photo credit: Himadri Das and Purna Sarkar

At MITU, Jaya and her colleagues are dedicated to creating innovative recycled products ranging from shopping bags, office bags, refrigerator bags, panty liners, menstrual sanitary napkins, tetra bags, hand woven bags, thamboolam bags. , masks, pencil cases, used soaps and leftovers, tissue sample books, etc. The raw material for upcycling is donated by furniture stores or by families who throw away their belongings. MITU accepts unsewn materials like sarees, curtains, towels, unsewn organza blouse pieces that they use for the lining of their bags and other items.

Unlike the others, Palaniyammal’s son insists that they do not salvage parts from old items because customers demand new spare parts. He thinks products have become less repairable these days. Previously, shoes were mostly leather and spoiled during the monsoon. It required regular maintenance and repairs. However, rubber and molded chappals do not spoil in water and cannot be repaired. They mainly earn by repairing bags and suitcases, which is skilled and well-paid work.

Impact of the pandemic on repairers

The paving activity depends on a flow of regular customers and there are around 500 in the neighborhood. Before the lockdown, there were 20-25 customers per day, which the lockdown reduced to 10-15. Containment had an impact on the availability and cost of raw materials. A 500 meter long bond that previously cost 300 rupees now costs 800 rupees.

Over the past year, Palaniyammal has continued to sit at his roadside stall, only occasionally closing shop. People flocked to his store to buy new shoes or to repair old ones when the larger stores were closed. She even started selling masks during this time.

Palaniyammal has had a Jan Dhan account for two years and in 2020 she received 500 rupees deposited by the government. While her daughter was ill, she spent 6,000,000 rupees on her treatment but still could not save her life. She borrowed from local financiers at a daily interest of 5%. She is part of a caste organization and a political party.

Manjula educates her children in a private school but has not been able to benefit from RTE services. She does not contribute to any pension plan and is not part of any support organization. She invested in bank deposits and jewelry and purchased life insurance. His family has had a ration card as well as a BPL card for 20 years. However, she could not benefit from housing under the PMAY because of insufficient documents.

The lives of these women show the possibilities and challenges of livelihoods based on a skilled workforce. Targeted social protection regimes and support systems are needed to make a difference.

According to a Hindu report from May 20, 2021, only 11 professions are registered with the Karnataka State Unorganized Workers Social Security Council for corona help. However, later the state announced relief for people in 12 other professions, including shoemakers, a category not registered with the board.

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