Ashtami and her team fixing the hand pump at an Anganwadi centre
By Sugata Roy
JHARKHAND, India, 10 September 2009 - “Hurry up girls…We have received a call from the Anganwadi Centre. They want the hand pump to be repaired immediately. Without water from the pump they cannot cook meals for their children,” cried Ashtami Mahoto. In a jiffy, her team members, Jaleswari and Susari, were ready with their tool kits for action.
It may not be a common sight in the country, but for the villagers of Lava Panchayat, women repairing hand pumps is not something out of ordinary.Government departments and NGOs have installed around 450 hand pumps in the Lava Panchayat, Patamda block in East Singhbhum.
“There were only four mechanics maintaining and digging new hand pumps in the entire block and they couldn’t manage to provide support to all the twenty-seven Panchayats”
“It used to take over a month for the hand pumps to be repaired. Thus, we were left at the mercy of these mechanics ,” says Devendra Mahato, a villager of Jalla village under Lava Panchayat.
“In absence of operable hand pumps drinking water is obtained from unhygienic sources,” he adds.
In order to overcome the challenge, Mahila Samakhya, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS) and UNICEF launched a joint initiative to establish a group of local mechanics.
The initiative focused on training women, who are closely associated with collection of drinking water and management in every household, in the repairing and maintenance of hand pumps in every panchayat of the East Singhbhum district.
“We wanted to enhance self-image, self-confidence and create economic independence for the women, thereby empowering them to play a positive role in their own development and the development of society,” stated Gloria Purty, the District Project Coordinator of Mahila Samakhya.
“A group of three women from poor and marginalized backgrounds was identified in every Panchayat. They were oriented in all aspects of repairing and maintenance. At the end of the training, the ‘three women’ groups, were provided with toolkits and bicycles by UNICEF for their assignment.”
To ensure ready availability of spare parts of the hand pump, Mahila Samakhya has opened a spare parts shop at the block headquarters. The women mechanics procure all kinds of spare parts and kits from this shop on behalf of their clientele, thus ensuring quick response in fixing the hand pumps.
Immediately after being trained, Ashtami Mahato and her team took up the repairing assignment on war footing.
“A year ago in Lava Panchayat over 90 per cent of the hand pumps were not functioning, but now all that is a thing of the past,” claimed Adhya Rani, Junior Resource Person (JRP) of Mahila Samakhya. “Ashtami and her team attend all complaints within 24 hours. They have ensured that all hand pumps in all villages are in top functioning mode.”
Women mechanics’ group with tool kit and bicycle on their way to repair a hand pump
Building self-esteem and creating economic independence
The hand pump repairing and maintenance training programme has helped the women mechanics to establish an identity of their own in society. They are now regarded in the villages as mistries (local parlance for mechanics), a profession which was until recently a male bastion.
“In the beginning, villagers doubted our ability and credentials as mechanics, but after we repaired a couple of hand pumps they rested their faith in my team. They have stopped contacting the mechanics in the block. Now people respect us and look up to us as the technical experts. I feel we have a position in our Panchayat,” asserted a visibly proud Ashtami Mahato, the team leader of a women mechanics’ group of Lava Panchayat.
The women mechanics have been making steady progress in achieving economic independence. After being trained last year, the Lava Panchayat mechanic group has earned over Rs 2,500 during the year. The group has shared this income in equal proportion.
Ashtami Mahato has made judicious use of her income. She has used the money to set up a small shop near the upper primary school in her village. “Whatever I earn, I invest in the stall that I have set up. My husband supports me in the stall. On an average I earn between Rs 200 - Rs 300 a day,” she said. The average income in the areas vary between Rs 100 to Rs 500 per day.
With a steady flow of income, Ashtami has also started sending her only son to a residential school in Jamshedpur. “With my technical knowledge I am able to provide service to the villagers and earn money. Now I dream of making my son a technical person, nothing less than an engineer,” she said with firm determination.
As a trailblazer, Ashtami has become a guiding light not only for her team members but also for the entire cadre of women mechanics in the Patamda block. The process of enhancing self-esteem and creating economic independence for women, it is evident, will soon turn full circle.