Women in Print: Can we provide them with dignity, honour and safety?

The latest issue of Print Miracle from Kerala is a joy. The cover story is dedicated to Women in Print. As P S Rajan, the editor of the magazine, says, "A lot of surveys have proved that among professionally united couples, the divorce rate is low." He adds, there is an "emotional and psychological attachment and togetherness in pacing the perils and twists in a competitive business environment."

30 Aug 2014 | By Noel D'Cunha

The women who have been profiled in the Print Miracle issue are:

V G Rajalakshmy of Akshara Offset (Trivandrum), who set up the first DTP unit in Kerala in 1986. After DTP became competitive, she moved to printing in 1995. Last year Rajlakshmy took a step forward. She established Akshara’s packaging unit.

Then there is Mini Benito of Jaan Offset (Kochi). Mini is not new to working in press. She spent time at a pre-press unit owned by her father. That made her foray into print easy. Mini is in charge of production at Jaan.

Sheema Jotty of Maptho Printings. Sheema is an MCA graduate. She did a graphic designing course, before taking up the responsibility of managing the designing at Maptho.

Mary Joseph of Duplex Pack. Interestingly enough, Mary Joseph has visited Drupa twice. Plus she has worked as a staff nurse in a hospital in Germany. The other aces up her sleeve are: an engineer in a print engineering college plus studying in Bergishe University in Wuppertal in Germany.

Jeena Yeldho of Technoprint. Jeena began her print journey by managing a post-press unit owned by her husband. Accomplished in office administration and management, she diversified to start Technoprint, a digital setup. Today, the firm provides CTP services and digital printing. She continues to oversee the post-press unit.

Srilatha Haridas of Leo Marketing (Ernakulam) where she manages the administration of the office. A post-graduate in commerce, Srilatha is the nerve centre of the firm.

Bindhu Manoj of Chithira Printers (Kochi) is fondly called the ‘Jack of all arts’ because of her ability to handle any work in the press. She can typeset, design, handle binding and also run the press. If a staff in any section does not turn up for work, she steps in to do his/her job.

Medha Virka, heads print association.

Virkar (l) and Singhvi

A year ago, Medha Virkar, formally took over charge of MMS as its president. As a result, Medha Virkar may have become the first lady printer to preside over a print association in India.

Interestingly enough the evening she was appointed the president, Amila Singhvi, founder and director of International Print-O-Pac received the Life Time Achievement Award, the highest accolade from the MMS, for her dedicated service to the print industry.

Virkar said, "MMS has a long legacy, one of activism for prints' betterment. It's traditional and modern, and I am glad to be at the helm of such a legacy." She added, "I've been asked how do I feel being a part of a male-dominated fraternity? It feels great. I've been actively involved with MMS activities and its members, and I feel proud when I am congratulated as the first woman president."

On what she intends to do during her two year tenure, Virkar said, "To begin with, I plan to initiate small seminars for shopfloor operators. We also plan to renovate the secretariat, so as to make space for hosting more training and seminars. I am looking forward to many more initiatives in the next two years."

Speaking on the occasion, Singhvi, said, "It feels good. I feel that it's a bit early to be receiving this award, because I want to do some more work. That said, it's a great moment for me. Also, Mumbai is my hometown, so it makes it that much more special."

In addition to Amila Singhvi, there are Rani Chitale, Akhila Boddulur, Shobha Subramaniam, Meeta Shah, Poonam Dikshit, Priyata Raghavan, Aparna Govil, Sachee Patel, and Nimisha Kulshreshtha, among others, who PWI has featured in the past.

Women workers
In all this, we tend to overlook women workers who work in our print factories. For example, how do the amendments in the Factories Act affect them?

This is important when one considers the pro-women statement by the prime minister from the Red Fort, plus proposed amendments to labour laws, due to which women workers will be specifically affected.

This includes basic amenities like toilets and drinking water. Many printing plants, which we visit, show that these facilities are not available to the most vulnerable of our workers – those working in small print units. When we speak to the entrepreneurs who head these units, they say cost, plus no support from the state. My question is: there is no reason as to why this should be at the cost of the women workers, who are obviously worse off.

Then there are issues like maternity benefit plus provision for crèches. The Factories Act states, "any factory which employs more than 30 women workers should have a crèche". This provision plays into the hand of the gender bias that women are only responsible to take care and nurture children.

Therefore, the Print Miracle issue is good. It indicates that women can participate actively in society and in print.

Today, women are working in operations which were not allowed earlier, such as cleaning, lubricating and even post-press department plus fabrication; and two, more women in the CTP department; as well as digital print shopfloors.

During the Vadodara roundtable discussion, Jignesh Shah, president of Vadodara printers association had a word of advice. “In print companies overseas, 50% of the workforce is women.” He adds, “We too have women force in large numbers in Vadodara, who would be willing to work in our industry, provided we create a good working environment for them to function in, give them training. If we have women working in our companies, I think, we would have a stability not associated with men, who tend to jump from one place to another.”  

Vishal Nimbalkar of Vishal Offset, part of the discussion, agreed. “One of my employees, who operates the large-format printing machine, is a woman. She does the entire operation, including lamination.”

It is interesting that Kerala is the land where night work was permitted. Women doing night shifts – especially nurses and women working in fisheries and newspaper offices. Surely if these women can work at night, then so can other women in the rest of the country?

What we need to do is ensure the women who work in the print industry have adequate safeguards as regards occupational safety and health, provision of shelter, restrooms, lunchrooms, night crèches and ladies’ toilets, protection from sexual harassment, plus transportation from the factory premises to the nearest point of their residence.

My wife who is a professional audiologist and speech therapist, says, women in India seek dignity, honour and safety. She feels even a simple thing like ladies’ toilets will help. When I ask her how, she replies, "If only there were toilets in the house, the Badaun rapes would have been prevented."