C Sheeja breaks barriers by climbing cocunut trees to tap toddy for a living

Sheeja first climbed the coconut tree at the age of 32 while her husband Jayakumar and children witnessed it anxiously.Now, she has become an expert woman toddy tapper.

As she climbs coconut trees to tap toddy everyday, the thoughts about her brother Ratheeshan, who died falling from a coconut tree while tapping toddy, comes to her mind. “Every time, without fail,” says C Sheeja, 34, the toddy tapping tribal woman of Panniyode, near Kannavam. She is the first woman toddy tapper in the district and perhaps the only one doing the job in the state.

“He got the veins of his hands cut while trying to extract toddy. Since, blood was gushing out he was afraid to get down. But, soon he got exhausted and fell,” said Sheeja, shaking her heads in an attempt to drive out the thoughts from her mind. It was three years ago. But, life reserved more setbacks for Sheeja as she had to carry the ‘thalappu’ (a knot used for climbing trees) after two years of his death, to keep her family going.

Her husband Jayakumar, who is also a toddy tapper, met with an accident as the vehicle in which he was taking toddy to the shop, collided with another vehicle. Jayakumar was unable to work for many months. And since the only income of the family got drained up, Sheeja told her husband that, she would give it a try. Though he dissuaded her initially, Jayakumar later tried to teach her how to climb the coconut tree by giving instructions from below.

“In the beginning, I tried to learn by climbing small trees. Then slowly increased the height. Now, I climb 10 trees three times a day. I get around Rs 350 per day, if I work. If I can’t work, I won’t get any money,” said Sheeja. Now, 10 months have gone since she started tapping toddy. She said that she could climb trees with a height of around 25-30 ft.

“I can climb up to 26 ft,” she said. “Initially, it was a bit tough. Not the climbing part, but the trees would vacillate in the wind making me dizzy. Then I would hold on to the tree tightly. The tapping too was not easy for a beginner. Somehow, I managed. I know that, I can’t fail as my family depends on me alone for the survival,” Sheeja said.

Sheeja, a native of Kannavam, did not take up this job for the sake of doing an adventurous work. It was her willpower and determination to fight the odds that helped her to take up the job while her family met with a disaster. Jayakumar, who is also a toddy tapper, met with an accident as his bike collided with another vehicle. Following this, he was unable to work for many months. And since the only income of the family got drained up, Sheeja decided to give it a try. Though Jayakumar dissuaded her initially, he later went on to teach her how to climb the coconut tree by giving instructions from below.

“In the beginning, I tried to learn by climbing small trees. Then slowly increased the height. Now, I climb 10 trees three times a day. I get around Rs 350 per day, if I work. If I can’t work, I won’t get any money,” said Sheeja.


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