M. Nivetha, a 21-year-old girl working in a mill in Coimbatore, won a gold medal and an award instituted by the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) at the 13th convocation of the Tamil Nadu Open University (TNOU) on Monday, after securing the first rank in her Bachelor of Computer Applications (BCA) course.
She was part of the group of women working in K.P.R. Mill Limited, which has a collaboration with TNOU to educate its employees.
Speaking to The Hindu, Ms. Nivetha, hailing from a family from a modest economic background, said she joined the mill four years ago as a labourer after finishing Class 12, with a monthly take-home salary of ₹8,000. Her father worked in a factory and her mother was a homemaker.
“My elder sister joined the mill and got to pursue her higher education while working. She suggested that I also do the same, as I could study while getting a steady monthly income to support my family,” she said.
Ms. Nivetha, along with other women workers, stayed in the hostel accommodation provided by the mill on the campus. “We work in eight-hour shifts. We had classes for two hours a day. On Sundays, we had additional classes,” she said. In the last four years, she had received a promotion, and was earning ₹14,000 per month now, she said.
Following in her footsteps, Ms. Nivetha’s younger sister, too, has joined the mill after Class 12, and has enrolled herself in a course in TNOU.
“My elder sister, who continues to work in the mill, is pursuing postgraduation now. I am also planning to do the same,” Ms. Nivetha said.
Along with Ms. Nivetha, seven other workers of the mill – C. Preethi, V. Bhuvaneshwari, V. Dhanalakshmi, C. Sathya, V. Ilakkiya, V. Hemalatha and V. Savithriri – also received gold medals in different undergraduate programmes. Around 500 more workers from the mill received their degrees.
P. Saravanapandi, head of the KPR Women Employees Education Division, said around 4,000 of the 25,000 employees were pursuing higher education through TNOU. “Once they get their degrees, the company helps them get jobs elsewhere as well,” he said.