This is a series of stories featuring women from a small basti in Ranchi, Jharkhand, who are the epitome of women empowerment. Although the basti is close to one of the multiple townships in the capital city, its residents perform jobs such as domestic-help, cook, pull rickshaws; work as gardeners, vegetable sellers or daily wage laborers.
As you enter the basti, you can see women go about their daily chores. When they are not working, you can see some of them carrying bundles of leaves to feed their goats or piles of wood to light their stove. The kids race across the streets to reach school on time or rush to their free extra school classes.
You will also see a small empty area flocked by goats and hens, followed by multiple small lanes leading to mud houses, as elders go about their activities and kids run around.
Many of these women belong to the Adivasi tribe. In today’s era, where one of our primary goals is equality and empowerment of women, where we are looking for support systems such as access to education, opportunities, maternity benefits, family support etc., these women have been skillfully handling their work and home for ages. I feel that each of these women are heroes and inspire us to keep marching ahead.
Here’s Basanti’s story narrated by her:
My daughter is in class 4. I want her to pursue her degree, but sometimes I am sceptical about dreaming high and sincerely wish that she gets to complete her intermediate education. She even came second in her last term exams.
After school, I send her to tuition classes. I try to keep myself informed on extra curricular classes happening in the colony.
Last week, she went to a Gita chanting class. My aim is to keep her engrossed.
I too wanted to study and would dream about going to college, but destiny had other plans for me. Now, I work as a domestic help. Every day I get up at 5 a.m., finish my household chores, prepare breakfast, pack a lunch for my daughter, get her ready for school, and leave for work by 7. Until now, I have kept her away from domestic-help and intend to keep it that way.
I work in four households–washing utensils, sweeping and mopping the floors, washing clothes etc. and get paid around Rs 5,000 a month. My husband was a manual rickshaw puller but he was losing out customers due to the availability of alternate modes of transport.
Now that we’re on the topic, I haven’t had an easy life. My father died when I was just 12, and from that moment, I stopped going to school. I worked in a stone quarry and then as a full-time domestic help with a family.
I came to this basti after marriage, and within three months, found work locally. I took a maternity break after a year, and when my daughter was 1.5-years-old, I went back to work.
My mother-in-law and husband were quite supportive. Whoever had the time used to cook, wash and look after my daughter. Only thing that my husband couldn’t manage was to tie our daughter’s ponytail. For him and my daughter, that was a difficult task every morning.
I used to enjoy going to fairs, dancing, listening to music and watching movies, but my husband sternly discouraged those things, and hence, slowly, I too lost interest. I still manage to do all of it, as my daughter loves such activities. She loves eating out (who doesn’t?); be it pani-puri, chowmein, or chicken-tikka. Each time we step out, she wants to eat something tasty.
Things got complicated when my husband died last year. He had his flaws, but I loved him, and I miss him. He was the backbone of our small family and our interactions within society.
Am I happy with my work? Well, I never sat down to think about it. I work, and I get paid. Thankfully, we have abundant work here. However, I am trying to get into an office-based (housekeeping) job in a nearby school or a government office, or even start as a household cook-for-hire. I don’t have a clear plan. I would, of course, love to earn more. I do wish to splurge and indulge in shopping. However, whatever I like for myself, it always seems to be expensive.
Apart from work, I have taken to YouTube, trying new recipes for my family. Last month, I managed to prepare dhokla, and I’m told that it came out well. Currently, I am learning to knit a woollen shawl from YouTube.
Today, Basanti is a fierce, independent woman, working round the year and round the clock to make sure that her family’s needs are met and they live life to the fullest.
To know how you can help Basanti, write to email@example.com.
(Written by Malavika and Edited by Shruti Singhal)