Like many young women her age, 23-year-old Vanlalsangkimi from Mizoram likes Korean serials and is crazy about plants. Her favourite serial is Descendants of the Sun, a popular South Korean series available on Netflix. She likes to start her day with a cup of phan, a Myanmar traditional fermented tea leaf, popular in Mizoram

But how she spends the rest of her day is unlike any other girl in Mizoram. Vanlalsangkimi cleared her conductor’s license in late March and started her work with Aizawl City Bus in April. As of today, she is the only woman to have ever cleared a bus conductor’s license exam in the state. However, her accomplishment did not come without struggles. 

Vanlalsangkimi at work

As a young girl, Vanlalsangkimi, who lives in the BSUP (Basic Services to the Urban Poor) complex in Lawipu with her family, wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. She did her elementary, middle and high school in government schools in her village in Ailawng under the Reiek block of Mamit district in North Mizoram. After her tenth grade in 2015, she moved to the state capital Aizawl to pursue her higher secondary school studies. 

“We rented people’s houses, and I used to sell fish to provide for my children,” said Lalramthangi, Vanlalsangkimi’s mother. A mother of three, she was the sole provider for her children after her husband passed away in 2010. While she worked hard to educate Vanlalsangkimi, they were met with many challenges.

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“When my daughter finished her twelfth grade and passed in the second division, we did not get admission in any Science college, so we were quite disappointed.”

Mizoram has only two colleges offering the Science stream in its undergraduate program – the Pachhunga University College and the Zirtiri Residential College. With limited seats in both colleges, students often face many difficulties gaining admissions.

When faced with adversity, learn from it

But Vanlalsangkimi did not give up. Ever since her teen years, she was used to trying her hand at different jobs. As a young girl, she would help her mother sell vegetables at the market. When she finished high school, she started an online shopping group where she sold clothes. And when she couldn’t get into a college, she studied a designing course at Vakiria Institute of Fashion Technology with the hope that she could open her shop someday. She completed her course in February 2022. But just a month later, things took a different turn. 

Vanlalsangkimi’s elder brother had a serious accident in March 2019 when his bike collided with a vehicle. He survived, but due to his injuries, his only career option was to become a driver. He drove a taxi for a while, but when the pandemic hit, he suffered losses. So last year, in October 2021, the family took a loan and brought a bus. However, they were unable to find a conductor due to stringent license procedures. The conductors who were licensed were all employed in permanent positions.  

“I did not advise my daughter to become a bus conductor directly, but her elder brother – my only son – has met with an accident. He can’t walk properly due to pain in his left foot. I used to tell my daughter, if anything happens to me, you will have to look after him. So when her brother started driving a bus, she said, ‘I will become a conductor, I have to look after my brother.’ If we don’t put our efforts together and work hard together, there are so many expenses we have to meet ,such as fuel and loans we have to repay. My daughter decided that she should become a conductor because she believed our family needed to work together with united efforts.” 

However, the 23-year-old faced some obstacles when trying to complete her license procedure.

“They (the Motor Vehicle Inspectors) asked me if I would be able to do it. Maybe it was because I am a girl that they had so many questions for me. When we first applied, the MVI authorities had said they could not give a conductor’s license to a girl. But because of the pandemic, since there was a shortage of conductors, they said even girls could apply, so I applied again.”

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She got through in her first attempt and started her service in April. She admits it was hard at first.

“My friends were very shocked when they learnt that I became a bus conductor. In the beginning, I used to get embarrassed sometimes. But I made up my mind that I will not be shy or embarrassed. There are times I still feel embarrassed because my friends are in high positions even though we all studied together. But when I came to know how much people valued the work that I was doing. When people started appreciating me. Especially when the ACBOA (Aizawl City Bus Owners Association) officials gave me a certificate in the General Assembly to celebrate my work. It motivated me and challenged me so I am not embarrassed anymore.” 

Vanlalsangkimi and her brother provide city bus service 5 days a week. Their day often starts at around 6 in the morning and ends at around 7 in the evening. After Vanlalsangkimi and her brother complete their rounds, they park their bus in the terminal in Ngaizel City Bus Terminal towards the south of Aizawl. From there, they drive home using a two-wheeler for around 8 kilometres. Once they reach home and finish their dinner, Vanlalsangkimi gets to work again, preparing food for their livestock. The family owns two pigs. Her day comes to an end at around 10 pm. 

Despite the challenges, she believes being a bus conductor is a good career option and that women have a good opportunity in this field, “It is not a very difficult job where you have to carry heavy loads. We just have to collect the bus fare. So I believe if we work with honesty and integrity, it is a good source of livelihood. There is no reason why a woman shouldn’t be able to do it. There is no need to stress about anything. We just follow a specific timing. Some days it is more profitable and some days it is less profitable. But overall, it is a good source of livelihood.”

Her mother shares her opinion, “I am proud of my daughter, she will do any necessary work. She will carry loads of brooms or prepare pig food if necessary. Among my children, I never differentiate between a man’s work and a woman’s work. We all take part in whatever is considered a man’s job. If we are healthy, there is no reason we cannot do it.” 

Transport Minister TJ Lalnuntluanga spoke in support of Vanlalsangkimi saying, “I think this is very good. She has set a huge challenge for her fellow youth. There is a need to encourage the youth to be able to work on whatever job they find. As long as it is legal, they should not be hesitant to do any work. That she has paved the way and been the frontrunner makes her a great example for others to follow. It is a great achievement.”

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