'Jackhammer Mary' passes away with an unfulfilled dream

Mary single-handedly operated the jackhammer, even when male workers sought assistance from others to operate it. Photo: Special arrangement.

Moolamattom: Mary Paily (90) of Cherumulayil at Arakkulam, who earned the nickname 'Jackhammer Mary' for her proficiency in operating the device during the construction of the Moolamattom power station in 1962, passed away on Tuesday. 
However, her aspiration to secure a job within the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), either for herself or a family member, remained unrealised. A jackhammer is an electro-mechanical tool that combines a hammer directly with a chisel.

Mary single-handedly operated the jackhammer, even when male workers sought assistance from others to operate it. It was Babu Paul, the then District Collector and coordinator of the Idukki power project, who bestowed upon her the name Jackhammer Mary after witnessing her capabilities. Babu Paul later mentioned Mary in his service story.
Mary's initial wage was Rs 3, while others received Rs 1.15. A strike for better wages happened at the construction site, and all protesters were sent to prison. Consequently, Mary gave birth to her fifth child in jail.

In addition to Idukki, Mary operated the jackhammer at other hydroelectric project sites as well. She was among the few labourers who worked with the machine hanging from a rope fixed to a rock above, during the construction of the Ponmudi dam. 

There is a tale behind Mary's inclusion in the jackhammer team at Moolamattom. Initially, Mary was involved in removing the earth until the underlying rock became visible. Before commencing the rock-crushing work with the jackhammer, engineers inspected the area. However, the contractor was not fully convinced by the engineers' assessment and invited an astrologer to the site. The astrologer advised that the team crushing the rock should initially consist of nine members, with one of them being a woman. Mary was selected as the woman.

Mary was engaged in the construction at Moolamattom not only in 1962 but also during the second phase from 1967 to 1985. She witnessed numerous accidents at the site in which many workers lost their lives. Despite this, KSEB later absorbed several workers who participated in the construction but overlooked Mary. She later harboured the dream of securing a job at KSEB for one of her children, but to no avail.

She is survived by her children Baby, Mercy, and Biju. Her other children, Babu, Tomy, and Simon, predeceased Mary. Mary's children-in-law are Thresiamma, Augustine, Sophy, Suma, and Sophy.

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