Poonam’s struggles were real. Other than being unable to make ends meet, she was in huge debt and had mortgaged her agricultural land to meet the marriage expenses of her sister-in-law. But ever since she received training to become a mason from the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society, she was able to repay her debt and mortgage and is now living a relatively comfortable life.
A few years ago, the family who lived in Chaukhra village of Piprakhurd gram panchayat in Lesligunj block of Palamu district in Jharkhand had migrated to a city where her husband Rajpal Paswan worked as a mason. Despite having a small daughter, Poonam too went out and helped at construction sites for a daily wage. She gained some masonry skills while on the job. Even though she found it difficult to raise her child, he had no option but to work to support the family. On one occasion, she met with an accident but continued to work soon after she recovered. After living in the city for three years, the family returned to their village.
It was around this time that Poonam’s sister in law was to get married. For marriage expenses, she borrowed 50,000 rupees at the rate of 10% interest. When that was insufficient, she mortgaged her land.
Deeply in debt, the family was looking for ways to earn additional income when the District Water and Sanitation Department announced its training for women masons. Her decision to become a mason, facilitated by Abhishek Anand (Block Project Manager) can be attributed to the heavy debt she had incurred. Poonam felt compelled to enroll. It would undoubtedly help her repay her debt, she felt.
Once the training was over, she became a member of the Saraswathi Jeevika Self Help Group (SHG). She is currently the only woman mason in the district. To date, she has constructed 40 toilets in her village and one in Khotkhas gram panchayat, ensuring each time that all technical specifications are followed accurately.
Over the past two years she has been able to raise enough money to pay back not only her loan but also the mortgage for their agricultural land. The family is not keen to return to the city now.
(Inputs: Nawaz Noor, ZSBP-Palamu)