​​How Odisha’s Sulochana Reclaimed Decision-Making Power By Earning Her Own Money

Sulochana Hembram
Sulochana Hembram was a student of class nine when she was married off by her parents. Systemically, like a lot of women in remote areas of our country, Sulochana had to quit her education for marriage because that was the norm back then.

When I ask if she ever questioned why she was being asked to leave school, she says, “Every woman I know did that, I assumed that was my fate, too. There wasn’t really an understanding or a space where we could question age-old norms.”

Today, at 42, Sulochana has not just passed class 12th but also pursued a career of her own. She is now running a farm and homegrown business out of her home. Defying all odds, and at a time when she thought there wasn’t anything left to explore in life, she has started believing in new dreams again and there’s no stopping her now.

Sulochana Hembram shares with SheThePeople how she started living again for herself, why work and financial independence were the best way to do that, and how she learned that age is, in fact, just a number.

Grassroots Entrepreneurs: Sulochana’s Journey

Why her identity is something she is most proud of now

Sulochana Hembram is a beloved grandmother. For years now, she recalls, she was known either by her husband’s identity or her children’s but not anymore. “See, before this, before I started earning or going out on my own and learning there is so much more to life, I was living a regular life I was taught we are supposed to live in the village,” she recalls, pauses and then continues, “but the NGO PRADAN came to our village and made so many of us understand that we could do more and tap on our skills to earn our own money and make our own decisions.”

As a homemaker, especially after her kids grew up, she often wondered, if there was more she could do apart from just being confined to the kitchen. That’s when she found the route to her answers. Starting with the basics, Sulochana returned to studies after decades because education and learning, she tells us, are the most integral in society if we are to achieve anything.

“40 years later, I was learning again. It wasn’t easy but it was important and I persisted,” she says. Having completed her 10th and 12th classes under NIOS, she used technology and app-based learning to gain information and apply it to her life.

“40 years later, I was learning again. It wasn’t easy but it was important and I persisted.”

Sulochana did not know what financial independence meant until she started earning on her own. She was a housewife and was dependent on her husband for money. Today, she doesn’t feel the need to ask anyone for money because she has her own. “To be honest with you, it’s not like my husband did not give me money, but I still had to ask, right? But now, there’s no hesitation at all. I use my own earning if I have to purchase anything for myself or my kids or grandkids and it’s a great feeling.”

When I ask her what she wants to tell other women, she responds, “If a woman my age can begin again and pursue her dream, anyone can. Want to tell women my age to dream new dreams and work towards them without fear.”

This story is part of the #KisiSeKumNahi series. UN Women India and SheThePeopleTV come together to celebrate women’s leadership with #KisiSeKumNahi, tales of women’s empowerment.

Suggested reading: Back To School, 30 Years Later: How Chittorgarh’s Madhu Redefined Her Timeline