Fighting the shackles of patriarchy, many women in Rajasthan have risen against the social norms of society and have joined the fire service. Shedding the veil of being a mother and wife, these young girls, have transformed their lives by turning into Rajasthan’s first women firefighters.
Land of Child-brides:
Child marriage is still a looming problem in certain areas of India, which has the highest rates of early marriage in the world. According to the latest National Health Survey, about 47% of women were married off before they turned 18.
Rajasthan- one of India’s premier tourist destinations, where millions flock to see its ancient fortresses and sand dunes- records higher than the national average, with 65.2% of women being married off as child brides.
In a government initiative of empowering women, around 30 women have been recruited from Rajasthan’s towns and villages as part of an affirmative action policy to encourage women to join the fire service. This policy reserves 33% of government jobs for women candidates and has helped increase the number of women in police and administrative services, and was implemented in the fire service last year.
Such is the story of Nirma Choudhary, who was married before her 18th birthday. She could have ended up like the other child-brides, who were forced to quit school and were burdened with the duties of a marriage. But destiny had other things in store for her. In spite of being a child-bride, her husband, parents and in-laws supported her wish to study further, take a degree in education and become a firefighter after seeing an advert calling for women to join the state’s fire service. After a 6-month training course, she joined Jaipur Nagar Nigam fire station and has since tackled dozens of blazes from gas cylinder blasts in homes to factory fires.
Today, Nirma lives in a small rented room in Jaipur with another female firefighter and visits her family once a week.
Proving that no job is just a man’s job, these brave women actively participate in a male-dominated profession, be it the army, police, or even firefighters. This has inspired other women to follow suit.
India’s economic liberalization and rapid growth have exposed people to more liberal views about women, who are increasingly stepping out of their traditional roles.
Affirmative action is a step forward, as these girls and women move into the sphere of education and work, and acquire additional skills, thereby challenging local patriarchy and bringing about a transformation in attitudes.