Rambai (who goes by one name only) was 15 when she got married. Eleven years later, she had lost her husband, her elder daughter and her father in quick succession.
That was in 2005. She was just 26, educated up to Class I and with no means of supporting herself, her mother Umabati (55) and daughter Pushpanjali (6). The family had no savings, no land.
Today, four years later, she is the proud lessee of a thriving two-acre farm in her native Pikjharan village in Bargah district, 370 km west of Bhubaneswar. She earns Rs 60,000-75,000 a year.
“It was a desperate situation at first and for a few months I didn’t know how to face the situation,” Rambai said. But the hard times brought out the fighter in her. With a little luck, and a lot of strength, she was on her way to a better life.
Rambai managed to convince a large landowner in the village to lease her a two-acre farm patch. She grew potato, tomato, brinjal, cauliflower and cabbage — doing all the work on her own, from digging, ploughing and watering to harvesting. She even carried the vegetables to the local market and sold them herself.
Four years of back-breaking work and thrifty habits later, Rambai employs three daily labourers and is an important member of the village community.
Her daughter is a Class V student and Rambati’s dream is to groom her to become a “big officer (local parlance for IAS officer)”.
“I couldn’t study as my parents couldn’t afford it. But I don’t want Pushpanjali to go through what I have,” she told HT.
“It is a common sight to watch Rambai early in the morning cycling her way to the wholesale vegetable market in Bargarh town, carrying a load of about 80 kg of her crops. She is inspiring other women in the area to become self-sufficient,” said Bibhuti Barik, her neighbour in the village.