As a college student, whenever Sita Behera returned to her home in Odisha’s Soran village during the holidays, she would be greeted with a series of taunts and jeers. Boys would gather around to mock her in public, and neighbours would ridicule her college uniform because she was wearing a shirt and pants.
Sita’s fault? She was the first woman in her village to break the glass ceiling and take admission in a college, that too in a technical course.
Today, the 24-year-old has become the first woman from her village to have become an electrician, secure a government job at Odisha Power Transmission Corporation Limited (OPTCL), and was recently felicitated by the Odisha Skill Development Authority, whose chairman Subroto Bagchi hailed her as the ‘Queen of the transmission tower.’
This portable lamp, is powered by salt water, and is ideal for camping, fishing, trekking, hiking, emergencies, and all sorts of outdoor activities!
Unfazed with the overwhelming acclaim, Sita is just happy to be working atop thirty feet electric towers and provide a decent livelihood for her family of six.
“I think things are better now,” she smiles while recounting the struggles she faced while growing up.
A Childhood Riddled With Poverty
Sita is the youngest of four siblings. “I have two sisters, one brother and my parents at home, and it was a challenging childhood. There wasn’t enough food to go around, and supporting our education was an additional burden for our parents,” shares Sita, who, along with her brother, are the only two among four siblings to receive a formal education.
Sita completed her schooling from the village government school, mostly learning from hand-me-down textbooks of her brother.
Her parents were unlettered and could not provide much guidance to the first-generation learners in the family. Whatever Sita learnt was with her zeal and motivation.
“We could not afford to attend tuitions, even before board exams. My brother would often help me with the studies,” she shares.
It was her brother’s friend who helped her secure admission at Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Berhampore—the second-largest ITI in India.
There, for the first time in life, Sita was exposed to a learning environment sans any gender disparity—where girls were not ridiculed for studying, unlike her hometown.
“A Gem of a Student”
“She came from an impoverished background. We offered her as much as we could, including additional training facilities. She was a gem of a student,” remembers Ranjan Panigrahi, the principal of ITI Berhampore who once taught Sita.
“I cannot thank my college enough for where I am today. They sponsored my entire course; even hostel fees I did not have to pay. I devoted the whole time learning and honing my skills,” asserts Sita.
Back then, when she would visit Soran donning shirts and trousers, the local urchins would catcall and shout ‘ITI,’ ‘ITI’ at her, as if it was a sin for her to study there.
Now, when they see the same Sita taking care of her family and keeping them happy, they look at her with awe.
A Role Model for Young Girls
“Sita’s achievement is remarkable, considering how she hails from a lesser privileged background. She is an exemplar for tribal women and girls. We want her success story to resonate among all our present and future students,” says Panigrahi.
In fact, the college authorities invite Sita often to share her journey and motivate more girls like her.
Being an electrician was never her aim in childhood when filling the belly for the day was the primary concern. Nevertheless, Sita persisted through thick and thin and emerged as a powerhouse in every sense of the term.
And today, she cannot get enough of wires and transmission lines, as she effortlessly climbs up towers to ensure her village stays lit.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)