The First Woman Chowkidar Of Punjab Kuldip Kaur Is Smashing Gender Stereotypes. Women Are Doing The Protecting Now
There’s no job in the world that a woman can’t pull off. However, since women are often deemed to be the physically weaker sex, some professions are limited to men. So much so that women aren’t even given a fair chance to prove themselves. These gender stereotypes have been a major setback for women. One of these male-only jobs that you’d never almost see a woman doing is that of a night guard. Tell me, have you ever come across a woman chowkidar? Buckle up, because you are about to.
In a country that preaches women should avoid going out alone in the dark for their own safety, it is a bit far-fetched to think of a woman being appointed as a night guard, a profession that’s largely been a male domain for years. But haven’t you heard that women like to break, nay smash gender norms? At least, that’s what Kuldip Kaur is doing every day. She is the first woman among 13,500 chowkidars of Punjab appointed by the government. She ventures out every night breaking gender norms with a torch in one hand and a lathi in other.
Dressed in salwar-kamiz and armed with a khunda (wooden stick), the 55-year-old is the only female chowkidar in her village, Bangiwal and the first woman to be appointed this job in the state of Punjab. She has been working every night since 2008 and making sure her village is safe on her own, without a man and she’s the one doing all the protecting, and I think we can all celebrate that. She is an inspiration to all the women who are burdened with predetermined gender roles and are denied access to job opportunities in the male-dominated fields simply because they are women.
Talk about breaking gender stereotypes, Kuldip Kaur is the first woman Chokidar of the state. Took up the job after her husband's death.
— Kanwardeep Kaur (@KanwarIPS) September 12, 2020
She starts off her duty every night at 9.30 pm taking rounds around the alley of her village and screams out ‘jagde raho’. She says, “After that, I go and sit for at least 20 minutes at a chabutra (platform) built around an old banyan tree, where the men play cards during the day. I sit there and call out villagers’ names and shout ‘Jagde raho’ (keep awake). Then I move to the other corner of the village.” She gets home past midnight around 12.30 or 1 pm. She said her kids were scared for her when she took the job but she never had a second thought. “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 am okay,” she said. However, seeing their mother bravely wandering the streets and keeping the village safe, they have now become assured. “They now call me a superwoman!” she added.
But it hasn’t been exactly cakewalk for her. She is still reminded of the unconventional role she’s taken up and is mocked for it by the villagers. She said, “At times people even make fun of me when I say Jagde raho as I pass by their homes.” Why? Because the society can’t handle a woman protecting the whole village when she is not even considered strong enough to protect herself. She added that it doesn’t affect her anymore as she has become used to it.
This job is her only source of income other than the widow pension she gets. More than the financial security, it’s the identity the job has given her that she enjoys. “This job over the time has given me an identity, and is my only source of income beside widow pension which is just Rs700 per month,” she says. “I earlier used to get Rs800 and now I earn Rs1,250, which is very less to manage a family of six,” she added.
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During the pandemic, she had to be extra vigilant so she came up with a strong but witty message to pass around during her duty. She said, “During Covid, 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’.” How cool is that? I’d like to have such a witty and exceptionally brave night guard around for sure.
The only other woman chowkidar in Punjab is Razia Begum who was appointed a couple years after Kaur to guard Bir, a village about 15 kilometres away from Bangiwal. The fact that women like these are killing it in the male-dominated professions and proving that a woman is as—or in fact more—competent every job than men is a slap in the face of societal norms. These women are a living proof that no job is meant only for men and we really need to get past the gender stereotypes. What we need to do is encourage more women to take up unconventional roles and break the norms left, right and centre, just like Kuldip Kaur.