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Rural women stitching facemasks in Bihar. Image Credit: Supplied

Patna: While many lost jobs as a result of COVID-19-induced lockdowns and restrictions, rural women from Bihar have turned the adversity into opportunity by stitching facemasks at this critical times and earning millions to support their families in crisis.

Bihar rural development department officials said more than 25,000 groups of women are currently busy in making facemasks and earning handsome amounts. A woman is getting Rs5 for stitching a single three–layered quality mask. These women are supplying facemasks to government departments. Of them, the Panchayati Raj department alone placed the order for preparing 12 million masks as part of the government’s plan to distribute six facemasks to each family across the state.

In the Muslim-dominated border region comprising four districts, such as Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and Purnia, these women have stitched more than 11.5 million masks in the past two months and have earned Rs57.5 million which has provided good financial support to their families.

45-year-old Munni Devi’s joy knew no bounds and she had a reason. The woman who hails from Bahadurganj block of Kishnaganj district earned Rs85,000 by making 17,000 facemasks in two months. “My husband, who is a daily wage earner, lost his odd jobs due to COVID-19 lockdown in the state. In such a situation, this money has come as a much-needed support to my family. I am very happy,” she said.

She is among 4,500 women working overtime to prepare facemasks in the border region of Bihar. Rekha Devi, a rural woman from Sheikhpura district, too is very happy to get job opportunities at home when her husband went jobless. “The job has saved us from starving,” she added.

“These rural women have played a significant role in tackling COVID-19. They not only prepared facemasks for the society and gave the people protection from coronavirus infections but also arranged livelihood for their families,” Bihar rural development minister Shrawan Kumar said.

According to the minister, these women have prepared more than 55 million facemasks so far. Of them, 12 million alone was supplied to the Panchayati Raj department whereas the rest were sent to other departments or were sold to the common villagers who urgently required them to protect their faces from surging COVID-19 infections.

“These women have done an excellent job of spreading awareness about COVID-19 infections in the villages. In the rural areas, almost all people wear facemasks prepared by them,” said a government official Nitesh Kumar posted in Katihar town. Another government official Rajesh Kumar said they indeed are very proud of these women who worked overtime to prepare facemasks for the society.

According to the rural development department, currently more than 25,000 groups of women are busy stitching facemasks at 897 centres across all the 38 districts of Bihar. Jeevika, a World Bank-supported poverty alleviation programme currently operational in the state, has come as a ray of hope for these women as this provided a platform to them.