The 12-woman crew handles all operations in the bottling plant, except loading of cylinders

LEH: Every morning, Tsering Angmo leaves her two-year-old son with neighbours and commutes 20 km through a frozen landscape from her home in Choglamsar, a settlement near Leh, to work at Ladakh’s only LPG bottling plant near Leh.

Angmo is part of a 12-member all-women crew making sure that the 50,000 Indian soldiers eyeballing the People’s Liberation Army in Arctic temperatures do not have to march on empty stomachs.

The plant, built by state-run IndianOil, is Ladakh’s only source of cooking gas and a lifeline once snow snaps road connectivity with the rest of the country. About 40% of the refills produced at the plant go to the defence establishment. It is also the country’s only LPG unit to be operated by women.

The women work the production line, check quality of seals etc and manage security. All the crew members, except security officer Tsetan Angmo, are contract workers. Only loading, involving heavy lifting, is handled by five men.

By the very nature of their engagement, some heroes — soldiers, sportspersons, social workers — grab our attention. The women at Ladakh LPG plant are performing a vital task under difficult circumstances. They may seem ordinary people, but they are heroes too.

To these women, in their 20s and 40s, managing the plant and their families seem to come naturally. “I have to start early as I have to get my son ready before leaving. I can’t afford to miss the bus to the plant where the shift starts at 9am. If I miss the bus, getting transport to the plant can be difficult,” says Tsering Angmo.

“The ease with which the ladies of our LPG plant deliver day in and day out, even in dead cold, exemplifies the power of women,” says Sujoy Choudhury, ED at IndianOil’s Punjab state office which is in charge of the plant.

The commute is longer for Rigzin Lado from Karu, 35 km from Leh. But she doesn’t mind. “Before joining I did not even know how to fix a regulator (to a cylinder). Now I feel responsible for each refill that goes out. It is our bit for the country and the army.”

Padma Tsogyal, also from Choglamsar, said the team double-checks the refills head for defence establishments as a mark of respect. “My family also now truly appreciates the worth of LPG cylinders because they are aware of the hard work that goes into making them available.”

Security officer Angmo feels “women workers are more diligent and careful about safety”, which makes it “easier” to manage HSE (health safety and environment) parameters.