A handful of women in UP's Bundelkhand region have transformed their lives - with the help of nothing more than the humble hand pump.
This antiquated machine has, in fact, become a means of emancipation for Savitri, Prema and Bhuri and 20 other illiterate, oppressed women from Karvi in Uttar Pradesh's Chitrakoot district.
For years, these women had faced harrowing domestic violence and had to suffer silently because they had no means of supporting themselves on their own.<b1>
So, when two local women's NGOs – Vanangana and Mahila Samakhya – gave them the chance to earn their own money by repairing hand-pumps, it was a call to freedom.
Of course, that was easier said than done. "Learning to repair the handpumps wasn't easy, remembers Savitri. "The men disapproved of my leaving the house and worse, my entire family threatened to disown me."
But after being tied in bondage for to the upper-class landowner of her village Savitri was determined to change her destiny She says, "I decided I had to step out and earn my own money. And once I started earning, I feared nothing and no one."
And even more gratifyingly, said Savitri, during a recent visit to Lucknow, "Now I know I can educate my children and free my family from generations of bondage."
Soon after the women began work, the Chitrakoot Jal Nigam (CJN) began supporting them by giving them contracts to fix hand-pumps. Today, the women receive private contracts as well, and earn as much as Rs 300 a day.
"If a village panchayat is good, they ask us to do some work repair work for them and pay us. But sometimes the panchayats are cruel; many have not paid us," says Prema. Adds Savitri: "Sometimes, the villagers themselves approach us to repair the pumps in their village and pay us by collecting money amongst themselves."
The social barriers aside, their work is demanding: they often have to trek several kilometres to reach the repair site. And when the pump can't be repaired on the site itself, they have to carry it on their backs to their ‘workstation'.
But that doesn't stop these intrepid women. Says Madhavi Kukerja of Vanangana, "It's overwhelming to see them working at this so religiously ."