A tribal woman vendor in Assam overcomes economic difficulty and fights for her rights.
The narrow lanes winding through Gossaigaon market is the path along which people of Kokrajhar district, Assam walk down for all their needs. It is the kind of old, local marketplace that has been around as far as anyone can remember. Everything you desire to purchase is right around the corner and you can haggle your way to the best possible bargain. Sitting cross-legged in the teeming market square with her vegetables spread around in small mounds of colour and shape on a piece of plastic tarpaulin, Sumela Basumatri cuts a figure so familiar you might just miss her as you walk past. Unless she told you her story you may never realize what an extra-ordinary women she is.
A few years ago, the untimely and sudden passing away of her husband almost threatened to cripple Sumela’s existence. It was not just the shock and grief but the looming prospect of living her life alone. An indigenous Bodo tribal minority, a woman and now, a widow; society seemed to compound her helplessness by pushing her further into the margins. But instead of going to pieces, she started to rebuild her life. Her efforts to cope with and overcome her vulnerability became the story of a group of fellow tribal women vendors who came together to voice their demands for their rights and livelihoods.
A local ngo working with women vendors got Sumela and her comrades to form an organization named GAFA which would look after their interests and issues. The organization was given a Rs. 50,000/- grant from the government which distributed as low interest loans amongst the woman themselves. These small loans helped the women set-up and establish their businesses and once they paid back the amount they were eligible for a second loan.
Each day, Sumela wakes up early in the morning and transports the heavy load of her wares to the market on the bicycle she purchased with her loan. She spends her day at the market, earning her living before she returns back home. It is still a tough life for women like her who, come rain or come shine, have to sit out in the open market without so much as a sheet for cover. GAFA has long been lobbying with the concerned town authorities for a simple shed but so far it is still a petition in progress. Sumela and others like her have done all they can to help themselves. It is now time for the government to lend them a willing ear and a helping hand but its silence on the issue is becoming increasingly deafening.
Young CC Anupama Das hails from Kakrajhar district, Assam. Living a strife prone district, she noticed the women in the community suffering mutely against the separatist bloodshed. It was their stories that she has strived to bring to light. For her, chronicling Sumela’s story was an unforgettable experience. To shoot the video, she lived with Sumela for a whole day, closely observing her life. Anupama was moved by the way Sumela conducted her daily affairs with a quiet dignity. She saw in Sumela a simple but self-confident woman who lived a hard life with a smile on a face. “What more can we expect her to do?” asks Anupama,” It is the authorities who have to act now.”