INDIA: On 11 June, women sanitation workers from the southern Indian state of Kerala pooled money to buy a lottery ticket.
Last week, they were overjoyed to find out they had hit the jackpot of 100 million rupees ($1.22 million).
The women are part of a group that collects non-biodegradable waste from households in Parappanangadi town in Kerala’s Malappuram district.
They usually get around 250 rupees ($3.04) a day – from monthly payments made by the households – and occasionally a share of the money made by the local corporation from selling the segregated waste they collect.
The money, they say candidly, is not enough to make ends meet. Most of the women have borrowed money and taken loans for their children’s education and other expenses.
That’s why they would occasionally join forces to buy a lottery ticket.
The lottery is largely illegal in many Indian states but Kerala’s government itself runs a highly popular programme – private lotteries are banned in the state, according to BBC News.
“Once, we won a 1,000-rupee prize and shared it,” says MP Radha, who usually buys tickets for the group.
Twist of fate
Last month, the group decided to buy a 250-rupee ticket for a monsoon bumper prize lottery (bumper prize lotteries are issued for special occasions such as festivals).
Kuttimalu, 72, says she was initially sad when Radha was collecting funds because she didn’t have enough money.
“Then Cherumannil Baby (another member of the group) told me she had 25 rupees and was willing to lend me half of it for the ticket,” she tells the BBC.
As a result, the two women contributed 12.5 rupees each for their share of the ticket, while the remaining nine women paid 25 rupees each. They all agreed to split the winnings equally if they were lucky.
The women were astounded when they found out they had won the jackpot, but the news only reached them a day after the draw when one of them asked her husband to check the results.
“This is the fourth time we bought a ticket for the bumper prize,” Ms Radha says.”We are fourth time lucky!”
Ms Baby, 62, says she can’t believe the group has hit the jackpot.
“Luck was never on my side,” she says. Her house was washed away in the devastating floods that hit Kerala in 2018.
She now plans to build a house and pay off her debts.
Hope for a brighter future
Other women in the group also have similar stories to share. K Bindu, 50, lost her husband last year to kidney failure.
The family was unable to afford the money for his transplant. “He used to buy lottery tickets with the money we kept for dialysis,” she says.
“He left us without finishing the construction of our house. I have to complete it now.”
Ms Bindu wants to spend the money on educating her 15-year-old daughter so she can get a good job.
Lakshmi, 49, says that just the night before their lottery win, her family had been worrying about their future.
Her husband, a construction worker, was struggling to get work because of heavy rains in the state.
The couple is relieved that they can now spend the money on their daughter’s studies.
Leela, 56, had been worried about how she would pay for her daughter’s surgery. “I had already borrowed money for her wedding by taking a loan against my house,” she says.
After paying government taxes, the group will receive 63m rupees. Ms Baby and Ms Kuttimalu will divide their share of 6.3m rupees equally between them while the others will get 6.3m rupees each.
Apart from collecting waste, the women also help construct public toilets and install facilities for disposing waste, says KT Balabhaskaran, director of the Suchitwa Mission, the agency which coordinates these efforts across the state.
On Friday, a day after their life-changing win, the 11 women reached the agency’s office like always to resume their work.”We decided one thing,” Ms Leela says.
“We will not leave this job because it was this collective that brought us prosperity.”
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