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Women share stories of creating history

Celebrating breaking barriers
(From left) Soumita Roy, Kanchan Gaba, Mandakranta Sen, China Pal and Tania Sanyal at American Center.
(From left) Soumita Roy, Kanchan Gaba, Mandakranta Sen, China Pal and Tania Sanyal at American Center.
Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Sudeshna Banerjee   |   Calcutta   |   Published 09.04.19, 02:45 PM

An idol-maker, a train driver, a visually challenged lawyer, a firefighter, a poet — gender unified disparate vocations at a programme, titled “Women Breaking Barriers: Charting New Horizons”, at the American Center to celebrate Women History Month.

Kanchan Gaba was eight when she woke up and could not see. She was enrolled in Calcutta Blind School. Such was her determination that she scored highly in all subjects — except Bengali. “The principal asked why I had scored just 40.”


When she appeared in Class X exams, the Punjabi girl secured record marks in Bengali.

She continued how she completed college, took up mountaineering, finished LLB and LLM, and went on to win the President’s Award twice.

China Pal was the youngest of six siblings in an idol-maker’s family. “I used to make clay dolls. But father objected to my going to his studio.” Yet when he fell ill before Durga Puja, it was she that he turned to. Young China learnt to draw the eyes of the idol —the toughest test in the profession — but senior workers were resentful of a woman employer.

Finally, she fired them all and started the season with new staff and just Rs 3,000. “Today I have four studios.”

It was Mandrakranta Sen’s mother who prodded her to compose and later took two of her poems to a friend’s father, an editor. “He took the weaker one, saying a child could not have written the other one. I was hurt at the insinuation.”

“Poetry writes me,” reflected the Ananda Purashkar-winning poet who quit a course in medicine to follow her muse.

Soumita Roy spotted an Indian Railways advertisement for an assistant locomotive pilot and took the test. Everyone dissuaded her from quitting as a school teacher. But she followed her heart. History was created in 2018 when she was chosen to drive a ladies’ special passenger train from Sealdah to Ranaghat, as the first woman locomotive pilot in Eastern Railways.

“Even now on noticing me while boarding the train, people wonder aloud if the train would be safe in a lady driver’s hands. Some of them thank me on reaching their destination.”

Tania Sanyal is the first woman firefighter in the aviation sector in India. “We had to carry 40kg in the test and run so we can rescue an incapacitated person,” she said.

The programme was organised by the US consulate general public affairs office in association with the NGO Parivar.

“We wanted to highlight women who, despite breaking the glass ceiling in their respective fields, are not well-known,” said Anindia Banerjee Tamta, general secretary of Parivar.

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