Housewives in her village, like elsewhere in rural India, were restricted to household works and carrying water for miles on foot. But after Seema Bai of Jhiriyajhor village in Bundelkhand joined a workshop on upkeep of state-installed hand pumps, she essayed a new role for the women in the vicinity.
My life was no different from that of any other housewife of my village. With matkas (earthen pots to store water) on our head, we would walk several kilometers to fetch drinking water. Sometimes it would take us all day. But this is what life is like in Jhiriyajhor, my village. Located in the district of Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, our village falls in Bundelkhand, and arid region where access to potable water is a privilege.
The state government (public health engineering department) has installed water hand pumps in most blocks but most of them remain dysfunctional. People call them sookha (dry) pumps. About three years ago, I heard about an NGO organising a camp about the upkeep of hand pumps. I, along with a couple of other women from my village, decided to attend it. There was disapproval from our menfolk who thought it was waste of time. But I stood my ground.
Within a month, we got familiar with the structure and mechanism of a hand pump and how to repair a dysfunctional one. The NGO also provided us with some basic tools. Empowered, we returned to our village with a hope to end the drinking water problems that plagued our village.
A few days later, we came to know about a dysfunctional hand pump on the outskirts of our village. I realised it was time to put our skills to test. Armed with our new toolset, we reached the spot and inspected the machine. The entire village had gathered around us. For them, a group of illiterate women were trying to mend a hand pump; they had only seen trained mechanics from the sarkari department do the job.
Much to their surprise, we were successful in repairing the pump within an hour. As the first stream of water gushed out, there were claps and cheers all around us. We were superstars. I was nicknamed `Hand pump waali Chachi’.
The state department in the region takes four to five days to address complaints. But we were ready to reach the spot immediately. So, people started approaching us. They found us prompter, free of cost and more efficient. Other women of our village too joined and we trained them as well. It became a block chain soon.
Today, we are a group of 15 women now who can fix a pump. Our village head has arranged for us a mobile number for people to lodge their complaints. We cater to nearby villages like Mabiya, Gullankhera, Patnakhera, Udanna, Poorapatti, Jhiriyakehra, Sarkana and Barela.
People appreciate our efforts. They have even arranged for some new tools to help us deal with faulty machines better. Our efforts have even been lauded by the (district) collector sahib too. He was impressed with our efforts and assured us of all possible assistance.
For several years, women in my village had to travel miles in search of water. But one bold step has brought water into our village. I now want to train more women in repairing hand pumps. Women are not restricted to kitchen and household work. We are independent, we know how to help ourselves. My story says it all!