Parvathy, a 35-year-old woman from Anakapalle, Andhra Pradesh, says, “I’m married, and I have two boys who are in Anakapalle, Andhra Pradesh, studying. I came to Chennai along with my husband as a mason, and it’s been a week, but I still haven’t got a job. The daily wage for female workers is Rs. 800, and for male workers, it’s Rs. 900. Female workers only carry cement, soil, wood, and mix cement with water, while male workers do tougher jobs, so they get paid more. We don’t know the language, the place, or the people here, but we wait here as a group with our community people to get daily wage work. If someone approaches us for work, we will go.

I understand Tamil a little but can’t speak fluently. People in Chennai understand us, so there’s no problem commuting by bus. We miss our children, but we’ve built a house in Andhra, and we have loans to pay. We are here to work for our children’s education, clothing, and books. We’ve been coming to Chennai for mason work for the last 10-15 years. Our room rent is Rs. 2000-3000 per month for a family. We save money every day, and if we don’t get a job even for a day, we may have to go without money.

We are here to support our families, especially for our children’s education. With great struggle, we manage our daily needs with the money we earn. I want my children to study well and get good jobs. My request is for the government to support women financially in a small way.”

Chitamma, 55, from Chinakaguvalasa near Visakhapatnam, moved to Chennai a decade ago, say, “I live in Nolambur, earning Rs. 6000 monthly, with my daughter-in-law and daughter, working as masons. My husband stays away. I take any better-paying job to earn Rs. 15,000 monthly for the family. I earn Rs. 800 daily as a Coolie, sometimes weekly.

A decade ago, I earned Rs. 100-200 per day. I visit my village every three months as agriculture isn’t viable there. In Chennai, despite challenges, some landlords allow delayed rent, but others demand immediate payment, leading to jewellery pledging. My husband’s idleness compels me to work. Skipping breakfast, I have tea and biscuits. Returning home by bus or the foreman’s vehicle, unpaid labour instances occur.

During the Michang cyclone, my house flooded, disrupting work and rent payment. Despite seeking government aid, we were denied due to our Andhra Pradesh origin.”

Lakshmi, aged 40 and from Visakhapatnam, shares, “I have two daughters and one son; my daughters are married, and my son is studying Information Technology (IT). My husband stays idle in our hometown. While my first son-in-law works, the second one doesn’t. Over the years, I’ve constructed over 200 buildings, including government structures, individual homes near Central Railway Station, Marina Beach, and schools.

The people of Chennai have been incredibly supportive, assisting us with daily necessities and clothing on occasion. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy provides subsidies for our children’s education. In my line of work, I use various tools such as chisels, brick hammers, margin trowels, brick trowels, wooden and metal floats, head pans, and shovels. Despite experiencing joint, leg, and hand pain, I manage it with pain medication and rest at night.”

The narratives of Parvathy, Chitamma, and Lakshmi encapsulate the remarkable resilience and determination of migrant women builders in Chennai. Despite facing challenges such as language barriers and health issues, these women contribute significantly to the city’s development.

Their dedication to physically demanding tasks and the support they receive from the community and government initiatives underscore their vital role in Chennai’s growth. With access to education subsidies and local assistance, these women navigate challenges, building brighter futures for themselves and their families.

In essence, their stories exemplify the transformative power of perseverance and the indomitable spirit of women overcoming adversity, serving as an inspiration to all.