These professionals are making inroads into a male-dominated field

A day at work is no ordinary achievement for K. Aravalli, 45, who is one of five women professionals paving a way through the male-dominated field of sanitation service providers in Tiruchi. Her company Sri Sai Enterprises, based out of Ponmalai, has been undertaking deep cleaning operations of drains and toilets in residential and industrial premises since 2012.

“I was inspired by my elder brother, who runs a septic tank cleaning company in Pudukottai; but when I decided to replicate the same business idea in Tiruchi, I didn’t get much encouragement,” Ms. Aravalli told The Hindu. “Some of my own relatives doubted my ability and the propriety of my choice of occupation.”

Karate master, and three children, Ms. Aravalli decided to raise funds for her first desludging vacuum truck, which cost ₹18 lakh, by pawning her jewels. With business picking up after a few years, Ms. Aravalli now owns two de-sludging trucks and manages a team of six workers (two drivers and four de-sludging staff).

“There was a time when we had very little money; I am fortunate and proud to be in a position to employ people today,” said Ms. Aravalli. “Society should be more accepting of those who work in such difficult fields.”

While Ms. Aravalli doesn’t drive the vacuum trucks herself, she pitches in to help her male staff fix the industrial equipment for cleaning jobs. “A regular assignment, where we just open a manhole and get started, can take up to two hours. In places where we have to organise minor demolition of concrete drainage covers before we can get to the actual spot,our work can stretch out to over 10 hours. We are busiest during the rainy season,” Ms.Aravalli said.

As a recognition of her professional success, on August 23, Ms. Aravalli is one of the Tiruchi-based guests who will be sharing her experiences at a virtual storytelling session on behalf of the Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) at the World Water Week (WWW) organised by Stockholm International Water Institute.

Yakkoppu AP, a transgender sanitation worker who maintains a community toilet in Srirangam, is the other guest invited to speak at the event.

The session, titled ‘Women in Sanitation: Glimpses from across the chain’ will discuss the challenges faced by women sanitation professionals across the public, formal and informal sectors and the possible solutions to create a gender-inclusive working environment.