'Her Lockdown Story' documents the struggles of women

Sulema, a middle-aged mother, has always had a tough life. Her husband died young and her in-laws kept her child but pushed her out to retain ownership of her husband’s stake in the family property. She fought an arduous legal battle to retain the three-year-old boy’s custody but lost any claim to the land.

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'Her Lockdown Story' documents the struggles of women

“Still, she could hang on as she worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy family in Tezpur,” said Asma Khatun, a social activist, who has been in touch with Ms. Sulema. Since the beginning of the lockdown, Ms. Sulema was unable to go to her workplace. Facing destitution and realising that she could not feed her child, she reached out to the employers she had served for three years.

200 testimonials

Such testimonials — about 200 in number — from working women of lower income groups and their distress in surviving the lockdown has been meticulously documented over the last two months by Asma Khatun and 35 of her co-workers at the Women’s Leadership Training Centre (WLTC), an Assam-based feminist organisation that also works for cis and transsexual people. Last Friday, WLTC published a book of short stories — Her Lockdown Story — based on these testimonials. Among them is Ms. Sulema’s account, titled ‘Dust Storm’.

Ms. Sulema walked a distance to reach her employers’ house and all along she thought, as she narrates in her story, “They are good people.” She was hopeful that her employers would not “rob her off her justified income”.

Also read: Data | An estimated 12.2 crore Indians lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown in April: CMIE

'Her Lockdown Story' documents the struggles of women

“She could buy vegetables and eggs, lentils…she was so occupied in her thoughts, making a mental-list of household things to buy, the long wait felt not long enough. However…they…refused to pay,” the story relates. How Ms. Sulema, who allowed WLTC to use her name in the book, is surviving the lockdown with her child to care for is another story, said Ms. Khatun.

Distress calls

WLTC has plans to collect about 1,000 stories, said the organisation’s executive director Banamallika Choudhury, who edited Her Lockdown Story. The stories have been written and illustrated by U.K.-based scientist Shreejata Gupta.

“We were really not planning a book on documenting women’s lockdown experiences, but after a week, the distress calls started pouring in. Shreejata suggested that she can put the stories together and the book was done in few weeks,” said Ms. Choudhury.

Also read: Statement of Working Peoples’ Charter on Coronavirus crisis in India

While distributing relief, she had spoken to at least 100 domestic workers. “Only three or four of them had been paid their monthly salary,” Ms. Choudhury said. The revelation that workers are not paid despite the government’s instructions pushed the activists to put the book together quickly.

More stories

“The plan now is to make the book more comprehensive, mainly focusing on working women, and to make our workers, like Asma, write the stories in multiple languages, with translation into English. Finally, [we want to] to take it to the government so that some notification is issued to release the salaries,” Ms. Choudhury said.

In the next phase, Ms. Khatun and her colleagues will collect stories of working women in tea gardens, factories, households and farms.

“Maybe we will ask Sulema to write for us now,” said Ms. Khatun.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 12:01:55 AM |

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