Drones fuel the dreams of rural women in Assam

Drones fuel the dreams of rural women in Assam

Members of women SHGs in Assam’s Nalbari district undergoing drone pilot training.

Members of women SHGs in Assam’s Nalbari district undergoing drone pilot training.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have provided an opportunity to a set of women in rural Assam to make their grounded dreams take flight again.

Meet Riju Begum, Romina Begum, Himadri Talukdar, Ritumoni Kalita, Rinku Moni Medhi, and Minakhi Barman – six of 40 members of women’s self-help groups (SHGs) who qualified for arguably the first short-term gender-specific course in India to operate, maintain, and repair UAVs or drones.

They concluded their six-day training on Saturday, confident of adding wings to their mundane lives.

Riju, 30, and Romina, 25, both from Nalbari district’s Barnagar Banekuchi village, are members of Sanjibani SHG and Maya SHG respectively. Social and economic pressures prevented them from pursuing their education beyond class 10, the former now a marginal farmer and the latter a daily-wage labourer.

Their SHGs, into agriculture and allied activities, helped augment their family incomes but not to the extent they would have liked.

“The course has made us realise technology can open up a world of opportunities for us. There are a range of agriculture services we never knew can be handled from the air,” Romina said.

A member of Jonaki SHG in the same district’s Raimadha village, the 27-year-old Ritumoni graduated in humanities about five years ago. She hopes handling drones will now help her “graduate” from being a daily-wage labourer.

The 31-year-old Rinku Moni of Narayanpur village’s Swagata SHG graduated in humanities too. As a homemaker, she has been better off than the other trainees but the urge to “do something on my own” made her sign up for the course.

“Some of the trainees have a polytechnic background but by getting selected for the course, what all of them have conveyed is that it is important to at least complete school and have the urge to upgrade,” Krishna Baruah, the mission director of the Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission (ARSLM) said.

The ARSLM collaborated with the Nalbari district administration headed by Deputy Commissioner Varnali Deka for the drone pilot and technology training at Nalbari Polytechnic in Chandkuchi, a village near Nalbari town about 70 km northwest of Guwahati.

The project took off from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day announcement of coordinated drone training programmes for creating 20 crore lakhpati didis (millionaire sisters), officials said.

The Assam government subsequently decided to provide loans and training to the members of 15,000 SHGs for operating and repairing drones.

“In sync with this and to meet the need for drone pilots in the country, we launched the first training programme perhaps in Assam for creating a strong contingent of women drone pilots,” Ms. Deka told The Hindu.

“The Central and State governments are significant users of UAV applications. Once trained, these women SHG members will have ample opportunities as UAV pilots in agriculture, horticulture, healthcare, medicine deliver awareness campaigns, and even as drone trainers,” she said.

Jayanta Malla Baruah, Assam’s Minister for Skill, Employment and Entrepreneurship said the DGCA-certified drone training could go a long way in making women SHGs self-reliant and opening up employment opportunities in multiple sectors.

“We need at least 1 lakh drone operators to handle various government and non-government activities, even plant seeds and fertilise fields. We are also working on courses for advanced machinery operations for a range of specialised jobs,” he said.

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