“I think I was the first woman in Karuali to walk into the offices of the excise department. From the complete silence and the hard stares that I was getting in the office, I could say that it was quite an event. I don’t think the respected authorities and officers knew just how to react.”
Sunita laughs as she explains the scenario. One day before she had resolved to walk into the musty government offices of the excise with her camera which had the video she had produced stored in its memory card. She had calculated an element of surprise. It was part of her strategy. But the reaction she received was far more than she would have dared to expect.
“I stated my case in full. I showed them the video. I demanded to see the documentation of the scheme. I was greeted with utter confusion. They were still getting over the fact that a woman had entered their office.”
Then the bureaucratic passing of the parcel began. Sunita was directed from one desk to the other. She was told that the papers had been handed over to the social welfare department. Sunita demanded to see a copy. Surely they kept a copy! They told her they didn’t keep any. Sunita held her ground. She was not walking out empty handed. She held her ground for over two hours while the men were busy wishing her away.
Finally, they showed her the papers. The papers clearly declared that the grants have been distributed. Sunita questioned the validity of the statement. She was informed that the money would be distributed by the Social Welfare department and that she should be inquiring there. The situation began to gather heat. The arguments became angrier. Sunita walked out in a huff.
That night she received a long lewd SMS from one of the senior officers of the department. “I was outraged but that was exactly how they would have expected me to react. Later that night, I even got calls from his number. I didn’t pick it up. I don’t believe in fights over a phone. You never know which direction you are talking to. If I was going to talk to him, it would be to his face.”
The next day, Sunita was going to the market when she heard a sharp whistle ring through the air. She turned around to find that it was the official himself. She began walking towards him. “With every step I took towards him, I could see the colour on his face fade to a paler shade of white. He had never expected that a woman would confront him. I walked right to him and I told him that I was going to file a report with the police and tell the members of the local Press Committee about his behaviour. He walked away trying hard to pretend that he wasn’t scared.”
Sunita went to the Press Committee of Karauli of which she is the only woman member. The Committee called up the excise office and asked for an apology. Three days later, Sunita heard that the official had requested a transfer, packed his bags and left the town.
“I don’t know if that was because of what I did but I like to amuse myself thinking it was.”
A few days later, Sunita went to the Social Welfare Office. She presented the case of the ex-bootlegger women. She showed them the video and demanded immediate action. The department assured her that they would look into the mater. In a few days, Sunita got a call from them that the money would be released on the 16th of January, 2012. They cited bureaucratic hassles as the reason for delay and thanked Sunita for bringing the matter to their attention. They asked Sunita to pick a date where the department would organize a little function where the women would receive their grants from Sunita’s hands.
“The money was already many months late, so I picked the 17th itself. It was a very modest function. The 20 women and their families were present. A few town officials were there and the local press. It was a proud moment for me.”
All 20 women have now bought sewing machines and are now running their tailoring businesses from home. I myself used to be in the tailoring business before I joined Video Volunteers and IndiaUnheard so I gave them a few helpful tips.”
She laughs and says that she had found tailoring quite fulfilling but these days, she’s a full time video activist and has given up tailoring. “And now with 20 sisters, all with sewing machines, I don’t think I’ll have to sit in front of a sewing machine in this life. I’m thinking of selling it.”
20 women in Karuali are now leading better lives, lives without the fear of a police siren or raid. They are working hard, doing the good work, providing education to their children, putting food on the plate. And the one woman who has made it all possible is out with her camera, searching for the next story, for the next big change.
Why hasn't the Plantation Act been implemented that cares for the welfare of tea garden workers?