Originally published in The Hindu

She is awaiting a permit to drive a commercial vehicle — a one-tonne truck.

From a waste picker to a contract pourakarmika, Lakshmi’s journey with solid waste management has come full circle. Soon, she will become the city’s first woman driver of a garbage truck transporting segregated waste.

Just shy of 30 years, Lakshmi is part of the housekeeping staff at Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences. She is also the proud holder of a driving licence and is awaiting a permit to drive a commercial vehicle — in this case, a one-tonne truck.

At present, she is undergoing training in anticipation of being employed by Hasiru Dala, a non-governmental organisation working on solid waste management.

The mother of three children always wanted to learn how to drive. “But I did not have the money to pay the fee to join a driving school. I accompanied my neighbour to Hasiru Dala. They helped me join a driving school in December. My driving licence came on December 31…it was my New Year gift,” she beams.

Ms. Lakshmi is currently undergoing training to drive a big vehicle. “I was earlier apprehensive about sitting behind the wheel. Now, I am confident and can drive any vehicle,” she says.

Soubhagya, a coordinator with Hasiru Dala, said Lakshmi got married when she was very young and had children early. Her husband was an alcoholic.

Her 15-year-old daughter Pratibha is a school dropout and helps sort waste. “We have now admitted her to a tailoring course. Lakshmi has two sons – Danush (12) and Akash (10) – who are enrolled in a residential school.”

She said Hasiru Dala picked Lakshmi, a resident of Cement Colony near J.C. Road, because she is very brave and can read English. “We are planning on enrolling her in an open schooling course so that she can complete 10{+t}{+h}standard. That will further boost her confidence,” Soubhagya added.

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