Indian women are now challenging the gender norms that have held them back for too many years. Whether it’s taking up jobs that are breaking into the male bastion, becoming the breadwinners of their families, or defying tradition to ensure a better a future for themselves through education –women are taking charge of their lives, including those belonging to rural India.
According to a report by Huffpost, over 300 women have turned well-diggers in the village of Pookkottukavu, in the Palakkad district of Kerala, as a solution to the acute water scarcity in the hamlet, while also to earn a living. With a total population of over 20,000, this village relies only on wells and tiny ponds as its natural water source.
The women who have taken up digging are house-makers aged between 35 and 70 years. They have dug over 190 wells across the drought-hit village since last August under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
They climb down pits using makeshift bamboo ladders and dig from 9 AM to 5 PM, with only a one hour lunch break. Lack of skill training and physical limitations have by no means deterred them from constructing 10-12 metre deep wells in the village’s hard and rocky terrain, a commendable task.
Lakshmi, one of the well-diggers, told Huffpost that she and the other diggers initially just relied on “group effort and confidence” to get the digging done. The president of Pookkottukavu panchayat claims that the women of the village dig wells with the professional skills of their male counterparts.
However, while the entire initiative is great overall, a skilled male well-digger gets INR 700-1000 as daily wage, where as a woman worker gets only INR 240 under the MGNREGS. Moreover, there has been a delay in clearing pending dues; the women have not received a single rupee for their work as well diggers. Matters look bleak as according to this report by Outlook, the state of Kerala has failed to receive INR 700 crore that was due to it for the payment of workers under the MGNREGS.
The panchayat sources told Huffpost that the village is slowly recovering from water scarcity with the implementation of the employment scheme. While the women hope to receive their dues soon, they’re still determined to continue digging wells, regardless of payment.