Lending a helping hand to tide over water crisis

A few eyebrows were raised when she announced her decision. Her family was aghast and too shocked to react. Frail-looking Prema Devi told her family that she wants to help society in her own way-by becoming a hand pump mechanic. No one could even imagine that she does something that is presumed to be the monopoly of the man as it requires ‘physical power’.

But Prema Devi, a resident of Manikpur village in Uttar Pradesh’s backward, underdeveloped  and inhospitable Chitrakoot district, about 350 km from here, dared to take up the job considered to be the domain of the males only. And she has done it with her bare hands.

In her thirties, Prema, who was once a poor landless woman with no education, is now a popular hand pump mechanic in the district, which forms part of the water-starved and drought-prone Bundelkhand region of the state. The woman with a ‘hands of steel’ repairs defective hand pumps with utmost ease and comfort and make them usable and is in great demand for her skill. Prema, who once did not have any money and had to depend upon others for her assistance, now earns a lot.

Decent living

“I am able to earn around Rs 8,000 to 9,000 depending upon the season…the demand for repair  increases significantly in the summer  but declines in the rainy season and winter”, Prema said.

Mending hand pumps needs great skill. Besides, the mechanic has to carry heavy tools used for repairing the faulty borewells. It is also very difficult to remember the names of the tools but the woman remembers them all, albeit differently. She identifies them according to their use.

Prema, who was drawn to the work by the prevailing water shortage in her area, encountered a lot of problems from her family in the initial days. “My husband and others were dead against my taking up this work….no one had ever seen a woman hand pump mechanic in the past”, she says. “They (her family members) also thought that the work would require me to travel to far off villages and being a woman  it would be very difficult for me”, she said.

Prema, however, overcame the opposition and with sheer determination, she convinced her family members to allow her to take up the work. “They also realised the importance of the work”, she says. Fortunately for the lady, a voluntary organisation, which had organised a workshop in the district, enrolled her for providing her training in hand pump repairing. “I had to work very hard to learn the work”, she said.

A successful mechanic herself, Prema now trains others and travels to the neighbouring districts for this purpose.  Chitrakoot, like other districts in the Bundelkhand region, often suffers from recurring droughts. People of the district have been suffering from acute water shortage in the summer season. Barely a few days ago, ‘Gulabi Gang’ (an organisation of women, whose members wear only pink sarees and take up issues concerning women in Bundelkhand) members held a demonstration in Chitrakoot  to draw the attention of the authorities concerned towards the problem.

According to officials, almost half of the hand pumps in the district were defective and not yielding any water and they required immediate attention. People have often to travel several miles to fetch drinking water. A large number of livestock have also died for want of water in the district, according to reports. Prema’s expertise could come very handy for the water-starved people of the area.

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