Sheeja, Kerala's first woman toddy tapper!!

Sheej, first woman toddy tapper in Kerala
 In this era of women empowerment women are employed in many fields.  Some courageous and adventurous  women  looked upward and took to flying, high mountain climbing, etc  that were once men's domain. Coming back to agrarian sector, toddy tapping in the rural landscape of India has been around for centuries dominated only by men, part of the reason is it is a dangerous job which men alone could handle. Surprisingly, a Kerala woman  for the first time made her foray  into this male dominated job.

Hailing from Panniyode in Kannur district, Kerala State  C. Sheeja, aged 33 has the credit of being the first woman  tapper of toddy  in the state. Tapping toddy  from palm coconut trees  is a job meant for men  who dominate the field for the simple reason it requires good health and courage to climb tall coconut trees to tap the sap. The toughest job is perching at dizzy height the tapper has to fix an earthen pot to the stump of the palm flower to extract sap. 
tough job of fixing pot to collect sap. woman toddy tapper.
Sheeja  Kerala's first woman toddy tapper.
To earn Rs. 350/day Sheeja has to  climb eight palm trees a day, indeed incredibly a strenuous job for a woman who has her  own physical limitation. Being the wife of a toddy tapper, Sheeja took to  this profession under compelling  financial circumstance  in  the family after her husband had met with a freak road accident that resulted in his physical inability to climb the tree.  The responsibility of taking care of the financial needs of the family fell on Sheeja, a  mother of two school -going children. 

Though her husband initially had reservation, later he allowed  her to take over his vocation. His concern was her safety as the job is unfit for women. Not withstanding the fact that her brother, a toddy tapper, had died after a fatal fall from the tree  and reservation and taunts in the neighborhood, she took a firm determination to be a tapper. She had to start from the scratch 
right from learning how to climb  coconut trees and how to tap the sap from the flower to extract toddy carefully perching at great heights. Both she and her husband had to tackle social stigma associated with toddy tapping by woman.
Her husband Jayakumar  taught her the nuances of toddy tapping by starting with shorter trees and allowed her to climb tall trees only after she had gained confidence and  experience. In the early phases, she had reservation about the job as she found tree climbing a tough one. After persistent training  and encouragement from her husband,  Sheeja gained enough experience to climb trees with ease.
Sheeja goes to work in the morning  with  the traditional black jug (dangling behind her)  tappers in Kerala use when they climb coconut trees.  She uses  comfortable clothes for the job – a salwar and top, a shirt, a lungi and carries  two big knives  on a rope tied around her waist, same as the jug. Placing her feet firmly on the thick ropes tied around the tall  tree, with simple jump from the ground up she moves on the tree, keeps climbing while moving the rope up under her feet along  with her. At top she performs the toughest job - fastening the pot to the stump of the palm flower After the work is over she moonlights by way of doing other odd jobs to earn more money  to run her family.  She sometimes tries  rubber tapping in the rubber tree estates. Sheeja doesn’t climb  trees during her 'menstrual cycle' because for the deity there  ''Muthappan,” toddy is the main offering. Respecting the tradition and belief, she takes rest for three to  four days and goes to work 26 days a month. According to her owing observation due to climate change the yield of toddy has gone down from  eight to five litres per  coconut tree,.
Like numerous Kerala women, she is a maverick and  difficult challenges do not dampen her fighting qualities.