The alleys of Bangiwal village has been guarded by 55-year-old Kuldeep Kaur since 2008. She is one of the two women chowkidars appointed by the government of Punjab. Razia Begum is the other woman chowkidar; she guards Bir, a village which is 15 km away from Bangiwal, and was appointed after Kaur.
It is another case of the glass ceiling being shattered across the country by women. They are the only women among the 13,500 chowkidars who guard the 13,000 villages in Punjab.
A single mother of eight children, Kuldip was offered the role after her husband, Avtar Singh, who was also a village night guard, suffered a cardiac arrest and died in 2008. She says that there was no other recourse other than taking up the job as her children were studying during that time and there were no other means of income.
“This job over time has given me an identity, and is my only source of income besides a widow pension which is just Rs 700 per month. I earlier used to get Rs 800 and now I earn Rs 1,250, which is very less to manage a family of six. I wasn’t scared of this job when I first accepted it. But yes, my kids were a little scared and even used to visit me late at night to check if I was okay. They now call me a superwoman!” she said in an interview with a leading publication.
Apart from her night vigil, she is also in-charge of summoning people for any official gathering, and is also tasked with guarding the gurudwara. She doesn’t let her cataract become an impediment to her job, and is committed to her work since it is her chowkidari income which takes care of her family’s expenses, she says.
“During COVID-19, keeping vigilance in and around the village became quite stringent and I was asked to ensure that no one steps out during odd hours. So, instead of shouting my pet phrase ‘jagde raho’, I would call out ‘ghar vich hi raho’, she said in the same interview.
Covering her head with a shawl over her dupatta, Kuldip Kaur works with a long wooden stick and a torch. The village has a population of 1,500, with over 500 houses spread across three or four sq km. She returns home by 1 am because of her cataract which makes night duty a difficult task.
Women like Kuldip smash patriarchy one night at a time.
Despite the brilliant strides that many countries have made in encouraging women to work, there are still many jobs that have the ignominy of being considered as men-only. Many of these jobs are beyond the reach of women because they are discouraged from taking them up. Fields like construction, energy, mining, and manufacturing, are some of the most gender-biased ones.
The notion that women are not capable of doing what men can is a stereotype that needs to be addressed, and women like Kuldip are doing a great job by shattering such myths.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)