The Hindu Business Line

Cementing a way forward

Women train to step into the male-dominated world of masons

- SARITA BRARA

Kamla Devi from Shalah village in Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla district had worked as a daily wager under the MNREGA scheme for several years. But when she was selected from her panchayat Judu Shilal for a training course in masonry, she was really excited. This was an opportunit­y quite different from the usual. She had only seen men working as masons and, for the first time, women were getting a chance to learn the skill of creating structures in concrete.

Kamla was among the ten women chosen from her area and, to her delight, her mother-in-law gave her the go ahead. “If other women can go, you can surely join them,” she had said.

It was not so easy for Rekha Devi, also chosen as one of the team of ten. Her husband was somewhat reluctant initially. “First of all it’s a man’s job and who will do the household chores?” But when she insisted, he relented.

Stamina, enthusiasm

“We will be the first batch in the region to get training as masons,” exclaimed Sita Devi. Her husband, Dilaram, says he encouraged her.

Chhaju Ram, Pradhan of Judu Shilal gram panchayat, says these women were chosen because they were not only active and showed keen interest, but they had also demonstrat­ed good physical stamina while working on various projects of the rural employment guarantee scheme.

The training was part of the PAHAL programme initiated by the Shimla district administra­tion with the twin objective of empowering women and giving a push to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan through the constructi­on of toilets.

One part of the ‘on-the-job training’ involved constructi­ng a toilet for Kamlesh, who had lost her husband. “Helping a bereaved woman of our own gram panchayat was another reason that we wanted to give our best. We learnt how to prepare concrete masala, construct walls by cementing the bricks and how to put in a pillar (lintel),” says Sita.

Worth the effort

“Although I had to finish my household chores and walk for almost an hour to get to the constructi­on site at Hira village, I loved the experience,” she recalls.

“When we saw the physical progress in the toilet constructi­on, we felt really encouraged and motivated to complete the task and started working with greater vigour and enthusiasm. It gave us a sense of fulfilment,” says Sita.

During the four-day training, the women received no stipend. The cost of the material for building the toilet was borne by the local body.

Local support

Appreciati­ng the work done by the women masons, the district administra­tion has sanctioned ₹2 lakh for the constructi­on of a Mahila Mandal (a women’s space) in the gram panchayat. However, it will take time to get land and the gram sabha’s nod for the purpose, says Chhaju Ram. For now, the women could work as masons, gaining experience and a wage on a panchayat project that entails constructi­ng a dozen toilets.

“Once they become confident to work on their own, I’m sure they will start getting work as masons for private projects as well,” he says, hoping their example will inspire other women to take training in skills dominated by men.

 ??  ?? Women masons of Shalah village, Himachal Pradesh, during one of their training sessions
Women masons of Shalah village, Himachal Pradesh, during one of their training sessions

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