Women in Rajasthan break glass ceiling

They are comfortable with risky job

Women in Rajasthan break glass ceiling

A huge pillar came crashing on four firefighters as they were dousing a blaze in the basement of a factoryin the Malviya industrial area in Jaipur city.

All four of them reacted instinctively and virtually escaped from jaws of death. A split second delay would have cost them their lives. They face such situations as part of their work.

Shiver runs down their spine even today, months after the incident. Most people would have chickened out and called it quits. But Sita Khatik and other three women firefighters are made of sterner stuff and continue to encounter the  flames, despite facing all odds.

“We are extensively trained to use water hoses, scale ladders, conduct rescue operations and evacuate the buildings when fire breaks out. But handling a crisis is completely different.

On many occasions, you forget everything and take prompt and intelligent decisions, which are not taught anywhere,” 35-year-old Sita Khatik, who left her comfortable job in a medical insurance company to join this daring profession, said. “I still remember the horrifying

incident that took place on the first assignment of our career. But now we are used to of such incidents,” she added.Firefighting is no longer a male bastion in Raja­sthan. In 2013, the state government hired 155 women firefighters and seven of them are stationed in Jaipur.

The sheer courage and enthusiasm to beat their male counterparts has motivated the state government to recruit 21 more women firefighters for fire sub-stations in remote areas.

Most of the women firefighters stationed in Jaipur come from villages and hamlets of Rajasthan, where working in male dominated society that requires slogging, bravery and courage, is still treated as a taboo. For them, dousing fire is much easier task than convincing their parents and, in many cases, their in-laws, to take up firefighting as a profession. All of them have interesting stories, which they are proud of to share.

Twentyone-year-old Nirma from Kankor village in Sikar district of Rajasthan was raised in a patriarchal society where women are taught to make sacri­fices for men. “From the beginning, I was opposed to women’s suppression. In my limited capacity, I always tried different ways to elevate the status of women. However, when I came across an opportunity of becoming a firefighter, I chose this to prove that I am no less than anyone,” said Nirma.

Stressing that selection was not easy, firefighter Manoj said: “Around 1,500 had initially cleared the entrance examination but most of them wererejected as they were overweight (above 64 kg) or underweight (below 47.5 kg). It was difficult for them to hold hose pipe with water flowing at high pressure. In many cases, even three contenders put together could not do it.”

Raju Burdak agrees with her colleague. The 23-year-old Raju has no regrets for failing to clear police service examination just by two marks. For Raju, her present job provides more satisfaction as it involves saving lives of people. “I could not clear the police service examination. But I am into a job which is more courageous and satisfactory.

My father had no objection but was more concerned about dangers involved in this profession. But today he is proud of me,” said Raju who is from a small village in Sikar district. “I feel more happy because this was the only department left in the state where women were seen as inferior to men and I have broken this myth,” she added.

For intrepid woman like Sita Khatik, the philosophy of existence means “life is 10 per cent and what happens to you is 90 per cent and how you respond to it.” Sita from a small village in Dausa district of Rajasthan had to face stiff opposition at her home but she never succumbed to any pressure.

“My husband is working in home guards and civil defence and I had a strong fascination for his assignments. It was my husband who supported me against the wishes of my conservative family to take up this job,” said Sita, who had enrolled for a 48-day civil defence day-training course when her son was two months.

Apart from the zeal and enthusiasm to carve a niche in the male-dominated field, the one common thing all the seven fire fighters are proud of is the support from their husbands and parents. In many cases, husbands take care of children and the family in their absence besides their professional duties. “Women mostly work in morning and evening shifts while men work during night. During office hours, our husbands and family members take care of children,” said all the seven firefighters in Jaipur.

These women may have conquered their dreams but they are yet to overcome the internal “discrimination” and challenges in the department. Despite being a part of rescue teams, they are not assigned major responsibilities in worst fire incidents. Most of the time, they are asked to assist the core team of men. “We don’t doubt their ability but in worst cases of fire, a quick response is needed.

You need strong hands who can take a 100-metre-long heavy water pipe to fifth or sixth floor of the building, without wasting a second. In such instances women firefighters are sent to assist men. A delay of a few seconds may lead to huge damage and we cannot take chances,” said Ram Karan Jat, in charge of Bani Park fire station. There should be no regrets because dousing fire involves team work and back end support is more important to douse the fire, he added.

However, chief fireofficer Dinesh Verma feels that presence of women firefighters can provide imme­nse mental strength and comfort to victims of fire accidents. “There have been a number of incidents when women members were handled very well by our women staff,” said Verma.

Forest guards

While rural India continues to struggle over issues of gender equality, women in Rajasthan have gone a step ahead to tread on the path with courage and valor. Right from dousing hungry flames to guarding the forests and wild beasts, women are rubbing shoulders with men in all the fields.

Twentytwo-year-old forest guard Roshni, for instance, juggles data sheets and a wireless set in the control room, noting down locations of tigers fitted with radio collars in Sariska Tiger Reserve near Alwar district. Another forest guard Babli Meena patrols the Sariska reserve to prevent smuggling and poaching and cattle grazing within the forest area. Babli is also one of the two beat guards in the buffer area of the reserve.

“My job is to note down the location of tigers. I get information from the teams patrolling forest and all details are passed on to senior officials,” said Roshni. The women guards are yet to be made part of teams which tracks the tigers, she added. In 2011, Sariska got 14 women forest guards and another 12 were recruited two years later. Surprisingly, some of them had left teaching job to take up daring and rustic profession.

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