This story was originally reported and written in Hindi. PARI Education works with students, research scholars and educators across India who report, write and illustrate  for us in a language of their choice. 

When Bina Devi’s husband passed away in an alcoholic stupor, she had to demand her share of property from her in-laws. “I asked for my rights. I told the sarpanch [headman] of my village that I am the daughter-in-law of the house and I want my husband’s share. I had to take care of my children. Where would I have taken them?” she asks.

A resident of Nain village in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, 54-year-old Bina is a Dalit farmer, agricultural labourer, sanitation worker and ration shop owner. She needs multiple jobs in this village of 249 people in Kangra district, to feed herself and her family. 

Bina was married at the age of 15 and had three children by the time she turned 19. Her husband, Gurpal Singh, used to work as a mechanic. His daily wages of 150-200 rupees were often spent on buying alcohol. “It didn’t matter much to me whether he was there or not. Though [after his death] my troubles indeed have reduced,” she said. Gurpal died on January 7, 2019 while under the influence of alcohol. “He had lung disease and the doctor had asked him to reduce alcohol intake. But he didn’t listen,” she added. 

After her husband passed away, her in-laws asked her to leave. Determined to get her rightful share of the property, Bina took her demand up to the sarpanch of the village and there it was decided that being the daughter-in-law of the house, Bina Devi should get an equal share of the property. 

It is four o’clock in the morning and Bina is already up and cooking the family’s meal of roti and rajma. Her two adult children are still asleep when she leaves the house for her fields, armed with a shovel and spade. She covers the three kilometres distance in around 15 to 20 minutes. On her 2-3 kanals (1 kanal is roughly equal to a tenth of an acre) of land she grows wheat, paddy, and occasionally vegetables. “Half my farmland is barren so I am unable to grow much. I don’t sell my produce, we consume it.”

Farming comes naturally to her as her parents had two bighas (roughly an acre) of land in Najri village in Kangra district, on which they grew wheat, paddy and vegetables like ladies finger, bottle gourd and beans. Bina never went to school and instead helped her parents farming their land and also working with them in the fields of others.  

On some days, Bina goes for daily wage work in the homes or fields of others. She also cuts grass for their cows and goats. “I earn 150 rupees a day from daily work and around 50 or 60 rupees a day by cutting grass for others,” she said. After that she sits in her small ration shop, which earns her about 100 rupees a day.

Her workday doesn’t end here. She has been employed as a sanitation worker at a local private school, Udaan School, for the last four years. She works there every evening from 5-7 p.m. and earns Rs. 4,000 a month.

Years ago, when money was needed to send her children to school, Bina took up sewing. “I wanted to educate my children, so I gathered courage and learned sewing. The work used to earn me up to 150 to 200 rupees a day. My husband often took away all the money I had earned and spent it on alcohol,” she said. 

“I am very happy that through all my hard work I was able to get my children an education and today all of them are standing on their feet,” she said. Her daughter Soni, 40, runs her own beauty parlour; her son Sanjeet, 37, works in a hotel in Chandigarh and younger son, Manjeet, 36 years, works as a driver and also helps out in the field when needed. 

“People taunt me about my earnings. But I only work harder. My children now have jobs but I work because I know how to walk on my own… and I enjoy it,” she said.

Editor's note

Jyoti Kumari is from Katrasin village in Jehanabad district of Bihar where she did her schooling at Dwarika Prasad Yadav (+2) Senior Secondary School, Makhdumpur block, till Class 12. She was chosen by the non-governmental organisation, Sahje Sapne, for a year-long mentorship and skilling programme that included a short course on documentation with PARI Education. She says: “I found Bina Devi’s fearlessness very inspiring – it’s the kind of fearlessness that women in politics show. Despite being a widow, she did not allow anyone to brush her aside. She went ahead and changed her life and that of her children. I respect her and women like her.”