After that unexpected incident when she had tried to shift the car gear without pressing down the clutch, causing the vehicle to jerk, the frightened woman not only shelved her dreams of driving but also stopped travelling in cars or even riding pillion on motorbikes.
However, after 22 long years, this farmer-homemaker drove a vehicle for the first time, that too a heavy tractor, earlier this week with full confidence in Mulanthuruthy village in Kerala.
John was among the several women in the State who are learning the basics of tractor driving, which has so far been considered as a male bastion, as part of the Centre’s ambitious Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) programme.
The objective of the programme, implemented under the aegis of block panchayats, is to ensure and enhance the participation of women in the agriculture sector and create more employment opportunities by imparting training in mechanised farming techniques, the authorities said.
Moving the tractor through the sprawling six-acre land, Aniyamma, fondly called ‘Mini Chechi’ by her near ones, said she had never imagined that she would drive the high-power vehicle one day. “I had been depending on autorickshaws to meet my personal and family needs all these years as I am not comfortable travelling in other motor vehicles. It is such a surprise for me that I am driving a tractor now,” she said.
She, along with nine other women, are learning tractor-driving under the guidance of two experts as the panchayat authorities in Mulanthuruthy village launched an eight-day training session recently.
Soumya, a 35-year-old farmer from the village, said she felt ecstatic sitting in the driving seat of the tractor. “After the training session, I am planning to apply for a driver’s licence. I have decided to learn how to drive a car too,” she said.
An expert in fungiculture and a trained apiculturist, Ms. Soumya said the women have plans to productively use their tractor-driving skills in cultivating different crops on unused lands in the village after taking these on lease.
She said the State-run Krishi Bhavan there has agreed to provide the trained women with a tractor if they went ahead with the plan.
“There are several acres of paddy fields under our Krishi Bhavan. The lack of trained persons in operating tractors is a major issue. As we have received training, that problem is resolved now,” said Ms. Soumya.
Ms. Soumya also said that though a total of 10 women are learning driving under the scheme presently, more homemakers are likely to join soon as several persons have expressed interest. Though the training was initially scheduled for eight days, the instructors have conveyed that it can be extended for two more days to perfect their skills.
They are also happy to have the support of their family members and friends in the new mission.
Block panchayat president Raju P. Nair said that under the MKSP scheme, training has been imparted to women in various skills, including coconut-tree climbing and drip irrigation besides tractor-driving. After completing the training sessions, they are expected to start farming on unused properties, he said.
“The panchayat will extend all support in their further initiatives. They can directly take the entire profits of the farming endeavours,” he said, adding that it was for the first time that tractor-training sessions were conducted exclusively for women in the panchayat.
Recently, another 10 women were trained in tractor-driving at Nellikuzhi panchayat under the Kothamangalam block as part of the MKSP.
A sub-component of the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-NRLM (DAY-NRLM), the MKSP seeks to improve the status of women in agriculture and enhance the opportunities available to them.