International Women`s Day

The Times Of India, Ahmedabad, Thursday, March 8, 2012

Deconstructing male masonry

Rachaita, The 1st All-Women Construction Workers` Co-Op, Makes History Brick By Brick

Radha Sharma | TNN

Ahmedabad: Ketan Makwana works as a civil en-gineer in a city-based company. He considers his most valued teacher in the construction industry to be his widowed mother, Madhu (45), who worked as a construction labourer. Madhu went on to be-come a highly skilled mason. She works on big sites, earning Rs 400-500 per day, and runs the family. She gives him nuggets of advice that only an experi-enced professional can offer. In fact, Ketan admits that he would have been a school drop-out had his mother not worked hard to make her place in ma-sonry – traditionally, a male bastion.

Madhu is one of the 1,000-odd stakeholders of Rachaita, the first registered only-women construc-tion workers` co-operative in the state and probably in the country. The Rachaita co-operative, regis-tered in 2005, is a part of Self Employed Women`s Association (Sewa). After a rather shaky start, the women have come into their own. After paying the women, Rachaita makes 25 per cent profit.

"We take pride in the fact that Rachaita is the only women-contractor co-op among the five-lakh-odd contractors listed with the construction giant Larsen and Toubro," says Varsha Thakar, a man-ager at Rachaita. "In fact, when we registered with the company, a senior official visited us to ascertain our skill base. The initial question of most compa-nies is whether women can really work beyond being site-helpers. We have to give live demonstra-tions to prove our skills." Currently, 450 women actively work on construc-tion sites round the year. The co-operative has worked with construction giants such as Shapoor-ji Pallonji, L&T, Safal Group and has completed work in hospitals, hotels, flats, bungalows and shops.

Rachaita`s first project was job-work on the Sabarmati Riverfront. "We jumped into the river and then learnt swimming," recalls Ramila Parmar,

Rachaita`s president. The co-operative bore losses as women were not used to working under pressure and performing heavy-duty work. "We had to break and bend iron bars and make shafts. One shaft was to be completed in three days – we did it in 18!" recalls Parmar. After completing the project seek-ing help of men, the women huddled and learnt from their mistakes. They got training from CEPT and CN Technical School and were finally ready to take the plunge.

"Now, women have lifted 22 kg bricks to make walls and have bent rods," Parmar said. "The team has 10-odd highly skilled masons and an equal number of women who have graduated to be site-supervisors called `barefoot engineers` among the women! They earn Rs 180-500 daily depending upon their skills."

Kanta Rathod, a worker, says: "If I am able to support my four children after my husband`s death, it is because of Rachaita. I got trained in masonry and now earn Rs 350 daily, round the month." Rathod, like most women now with Rachaita, used to come back from kadiya naakas empty handed 20 days a month as mechanization had taken over in the early 2000. And companies needed skilled masons, who were all men then.