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Manning hand pumps in Jharkhand

Last updated: 06 June, 2009

Women are breaking into almost every male bastion from flying airliners and driving autorickshaws to becoming soldiers. The latest is repairing hand pumps.

Today, gender divide has become blurred with women doing work that men traditionally did till now. For instance, women have even taken to repairing hand pumps, otherwise considered a male preserve. A group of tribal women from Musabani block in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district have virtually stunned all those male chauvinists who advocate traditional jobs for them.

Jamsol village, 60 km from the Steel City of Jamshedpur in Meniyar panchayat of Musabani block, has opened a new chapter in women’s liberation. With around 150 families, the village currently boasts of around 25 tribal damsels who are engaged in hard work of reparing hand pump in an organised manner.

“See, Musabani block alone registers presence of around 1400 hand pumps. Therefore, we have no dearth of work in our area. Our earning is not bad either. But yes, it indeed feels good when our group draws appreciation for their repair work. But for us, there can be nothing more heartening than the fact that Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is planning to engage our group in an annual maintenance contract (AMC) to maintain 60 hand pumps of the public sector unit,” said Sona Tuddu.

Tuddu went on: “But, our path of success has not been a bed of roses. All this has been possible after working hard coupled with stiff resistance from our parents and co-villagers who wanted us to do something else and not pick this line of work. But, now in sharp contrast to their earlier stand, many parents in our village want us to engage their daughters in our vocation.”

Apart from impressing many lower class women in Musabani , the tradition-breaking step of these girls has also made them more cohesive as a group.

Recalling an incident, a woman technician Parvati Hansda said: “A couple of years ago, some youths of a village misbehaved with our teammate while they were on their way to undertake repair work. As a result a hand pump remained unattended for a day as we came back in protest. And soon, the youths apologised profusely. And finally we took up the repair work in that particular village.”

“The repair work in that village could have been done by our male counterparts. But, this was in recognition of the fact we are probably the most dependable technicians in the eyes of the villagers,” she added.

However, the engagement of tribal damsels in hand pump repair is now almost a two year old story. After being provided with the required tools and on successful completion of a training programme organised by the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department (DWSD), Jharkhand in collaboration with UNICEF, trained a group of seven women to repair hand pumps. They were also provided the required tools to make them complete professionals. Over a two year period, their efforts bore fruits and today there are 25 women technicians.

“Initially, we were a bit hesitant about the success of this programme. But, we are thoroughly thrilled the way things have turned out to be,” said a junior DWSD engineer posted at Musabani.

However, underlining the need to initiate such vocational training for girls on a large scale, a social worker, Vasvi said as she talked about the women’s emancipation. “But, with an aim towards this goal, one should assiduously work on liberating women from the stereotype jobs so that they could show that they are not even inferior to male physically. Look, when these girls take to the street clutching their tool bags on back, people get the message females are as efficient as males in all walk of the life,” she said.

Sandeep Bhaskar in Ranchi

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