When Aniyamma John, 55, was asked to change the front gear of the tractor after holding its steering wheel properly by the trainer, a disturbing memory of a car driving class session two decades ago flashed through her mind.

After that unexpected incident, in which she had tried to shift the gear of the car without pressing down the clutch causing the jerking of the vehicle somehow, the frightened woman not only shelved her driving dreams forever but also stopped travelling in cars or even pillion-riding a motorbike.

But after 22 long years, this farmer-homemaker drove a vehicle for the first time, that too a heavy tractor, earlier this week with all confidence in a village in this Kerala district.

John was one among the several women in the southern state who are learning the basic lessons of tractor driving, which has so far been considered as a male bastion, as part of the Centre's ambitious 'Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana' (MKSP) programme.

The objective of the programme, being implemented under the aegis of block panchayats, is to ensure and enhance the participation of women in the agriculture sector and to create more employment opportunities by giving training to them in mechanised farming techniques, authorities said.

Conquering the world

Moving the tractor through the sprawling six-acre land, Aniyamma, fondly called as 'Mini Chechi' by her near ones, said she had never ever imagined she would drive the high-power vehicle one day by herself and her happiness and self-confidence knew no bounds now.

"I had solely been depending on auto rickshaws to meet my personal and family needs all these years as I am not comfortable travelling in other motor vehicles. It was such a surprise even for myself that I am driving a tractor now," John told PTI.

She, along with nine other household women, are learning tractor driving under the guidance of two experts as the panchayat authorities in Mulanthuruthy village launched an eight-day-long training session on Tuesday.

Soumya, a 35-year-old farmer hailing from the village said, she just became ecstatic after sitting in the driving seat of the tractor and have a different view of the world around her for the first time.

"I felt that I conquered this world. That was the happiness and excitement. I am takig very seriously now, learning to drive tractor. After the training session, I am planning to apply for license. I have decided to learn car driving also soon," she said.

An expert in fungi culture and a trained apiculturist, Soumya said they have plans to productively use their tractor driving skills in the coming days by cultivating different crops in unused lands in the village after taking it on lease.

She said the state-run Krishi Bhavan has already agreed to provide the trained women group with a tractor if they go ahead with the plan.

"There are several acres of paddy fields under our Krishi Bhavan. The lack of trained persons in operating tractors is a major issue there. As we have received training in that, that issue is resolved now," the woman farmer said.

She also said though a total of ten women are learning to drive under the scheme now, more women homemakers are likely to join it soon as several persons have already expressed interest in this regard.

Though the training was scheduled for 8 days, the instructors told them that it can be extended up to two more days to perfect their driving skills.

Stating that the present training was to use the tractor to get ready an uncultivated land for farming, the women said they can confidently enter into mechanised farming after getting practical lessons to plough a paddy field.

They also said they were getting all the support from their family members and friends in the new mission.

Building capacity

Beyond breaking any glass shield, the passion in farming has wooed all the participants to learn tractor driving in the village, the women added.

Block panchayat president Raju P Nair said under the MKSP scheme, training has been imparted to women in various skills including coconut-tree climbing, drip irrigation and so on besides tractor driving lessons.

After completing the training session, these women, as a group, are expected to launch farming in unused properties, he said.

"The panchayat will extend the women farming groups all support in their further initiatives. They can directly take the entire profit of such farming endeavours on their own," he said.

Nair said this is for the first time that a tractor-training session is conducted exclusively for women in the panchayat.

A total of 10 women, belonging to the age group between 30-60 years, were now learning to drive a tractor, he said, adding, if more people expressed interest to join the class, the session would be extended.

Recently, another 10 women were trained in tractor driving at Nellikuzhi village panchayat under Kothamangalam block as part of the MKSP.

"We really wanted to learn the nuances of tractor driving for some time to foray into mechanised farming," Rahna Nooruddin, one of the learners, said.

The programme would help to woo more women to the field of agriculture and generate more job opportunities in the farming sector, she added.

A sub-component of the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-NRLM (DAY-NRLM), the MKSP seeks to improve the present status of women in agriculture and to enhance the opportunities available to empower her.

The scheme recognises the identity of "Mahila" (woman) as "Kisan" (farmer) and strives to build the capacity of women in the domain of agro-ecologically sustainable practice, according to government sources.

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