By day she works as an assistant engineer, leading a team of 10 in a car factory manufacturing parts for Renault-Nissan Alliance vehicles.
“My native place is a small village called Kizhattur. There is not even proper transport over there,” says Sujitha. “Because I grew up in that situation, I knew that I had to study hard and find a job.”
And she did just that – albeit against the wishes of her family who wanted her to marry and settle down.Sujitha secured a diploma and when Renault-Nissan advertised a position for a junior engineer five years ago, she jumped at the opportunity.”I can’t even imagine what I would be doing if I did not work in this factory. Perhaps I would be in the village doing small jobs on the farm,” she says. “I would just about make ends meet.”
Nissan and Renault are two of several international carmakers that have set up shop outside Chennai in the last 10 years.
Nearly a fifth of all cars made in India are produced in the area around Chennai in Tamil Nadu state
Today the area, known as the “Detroit of Asia”, is a thriving manufacturing hub where cars are produced for export as well as for the domestic market.India makes about 24 million vehicles a year, nearly a fifth of them in this region of Tamil Nadu state.
“We have seen a number of other car manufacturers establish plants in the state and that has helped us attract and help local suppliers relocate and set up in Tamil Nadu itself,” says Colin Macdonald, managing director of Renault-Nissan.
“Since 2010, we had about 15% of our suppliers in the Tamil Nadu area. We are now operating with 60% of our Indian suppliers in Tamil Nadu. So from an employment perspective, this is huge.
Creating jobs is central to Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Make in India campaign, an effort to promote inclusive growth in the country.Modi has promised foreign players he will make it easier to do business in India.
But more than two years after taking power, and after introducing a raft of policies, unemployment rates are at a five-year high.According to a recent government survey, about 77% of Indian households have no regular wage or salaried person, and so for many, life is not improving fast enough.
Domestic market growth
Despite that, success in places like Chennai is a sign that India remains appealing to foreign companies.Now that the area has become an auto hub, cost-effective raw materials can be sourced. With the port less than 100km away, it is easy to import parts and export products back out. Labour is cheap too.
Several car companies have set up shop on the outskirts of Chennai. Workers here are seen at Ford’s plant in Chengalpattu
The growth of the domestic market only adds to India’s appeal.”Today, only 20 in 1,000 people in India own a vehicle but we expect that to grow dramatically in the next five years and we expect the market to be five million cars by 2020, making India the third biggest market on the planet,” says Colin Macdonald.
A matter of pride
For Sujitha Rajendrababu, owning a car one day has become more of a reality than a dream.
“What I had dreamed of becoming in the future was made true by this job. I do not know how to express this.”
The daughter of a farmer, she has already used the money she has earned to buy a fridge, a TV, some jewellery and even a holiday around India. But her ambitions don’t stop there.
“My long-term goal is to become the manager of the stamping shop. I don’t only want to be the manager of the stamping shop, but of this organisation as well.”
And she wants the same for other people just like her.
“A lot of people in my village ask me if I can help them find jobs for their children. That makes me feel proud.”