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More than road, a labour of love

- Faced with delivery poser, village women cut way out of rock

Saratkocha (Angara), Dec. 22: The hand that rocks the cradle can carve a road out of rock.

A year ago, a pregnant woman of Saratkocha, a hilly, tribal-dominated village barely 35km from the state capital, couldn’t reach the hospital for institutional delivery. The village in Angara block had no road.

Fast-forward a year. Now, gritty women of this tiny village of 15 families have cut a one-kilometre road right through the 35-40km hill that blocked them from mainline Angara. Another 500m to go, and they will have a plain road joining Saratkocha to mainline Angara.

Once the 1.5km road is finished, villagers will be able to access the artery linking Angara, on Ranchi-Muri Road, as well as Getalsud via Bisa village, which runs alongside Saratkocha.

As of now, the road is neither smooth nor motorable, but villagers can ride bicycles on it.

But two-thirds of the finished road bears bald testimony to the grit of some 20 women who have worked every Wednesday between March and October, striking at rock with spades and shovels, breaking it down bit by bit and inching their way forward.

“Sometimes, men and children join them. The work stopped due to farming and will resume after Tusu, the harvest festival,” says elderly woman Budhni Munda, whose daughter-in-law had unwittingly started this labour of love.

“Last winter, my daughter-in-law had bad labour pain and needed to rush to hospital. We couldn’t call any vehicle so we carried her on the hill on a cot by foot. But when her pain kept increasing, we decided not to risk it and got a local midwife do the delivery at home. Thank god the mother and infant daughter were both healthy,” recalled Budhni.

But the incident was scary enough for the village women to realise the importance of a road. Trekking a hill when one is healthy is one thing, but during medical emergencies, a road is a basic need.

“The need for a road became all the more pressing when a nearby doctor said he wouldn’t be able to reach us,” recalled the woman.

The women first asked for help from Jonha gram panchayat for the road. When gram panchayat officials showed stereotypical bureaucratic indolence, the women decided enough was enough.

They set up a self-help group and planned the basics. Could a road be made by hand using tools such as spades and shovels? They decided in the affirmative.

As they all had responsibilities at home and on fields — Saratkocha homes are perched on an altitude of around 15ft, but its fertile paddy and vegetable fields are in the plains below — they worked on the road only on Wednesdays.

“We used to meet in the morning for a meeting, take up our spades and shovels and start work,” Karmi Munda, the treasurer of the self-help group, said about their road.

“We are proud of our womenfolk. We helped them when free. Sometimes, older children joined us,” said villager Deocharan Bedia.

Once the road is ready, the world might discover Saratkocha, 10km from Angara block headquarters.

It is a hidden gem — one of the rare emerald hillocks with picturesque farmland below. So far, only social workers of Ramakrishna Mission, working on health, education and livelihood in the area, are regular trekkers to the village.

Angara block development officer Ravi Prakash said he didn’t know the village had no road. “I did not have the information about the road lacunae. But, now I will arrange funds to smoothen the road made by the women and complete the 500km,” Prakash said.

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