Update from The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – June 2012
Posted by: Avirupa Bhaduri & Alex Linley
In her post for the month of June, Avirupa shares with us the long-awaited arrival of the monsoon season, although this also brings with it its own challenges. Further, the changing political situation in Kolkata is having its own impact on Shiriti slum and the activities of the Women’s Sewing Co-operative:
“Monsoon finally arrived in the second week of June much to the relief of one and all. Every weather though brings forth its share of tribulation. Rain is welcome in our country, since prehistoric times, as ours is a primarily agriculture based civilization. In villages in fact the first day of rain is celebrated through rituals. But in urban shanties, the romanticism of rain is but a distant memory.
Shiriti, for example, gets water logged if rain lasts for days. Filth, animal waste, overflowing garbage, plastic packets, all clog the open drains, clothes refuse to dry, children fall sick, and water gets contaminated. Water-borne diseases are very common during this season.
But our month started on a high note as all of us were quite upbeat about the successful completion of the costumes in the 1st meeting of June. On the second week Sharmila informed that she had inquired about the price of covers for sewing machine. The local carpenter has given an estimate of about Rs.300 per machine. This seemed a lot of money for our paltry fund. The collective decision was to start with two and then make the rest one by one, subject to availability of funds.
The next week however turned out to be difficult. A new problem has cropped up. As we approached the club, a local youth came over and wanted to talk to me. I was surprised as I haven’t met him before. He introduced himself as Tinku, member of the new club committee. He asked me to meet them, to discuss the status of our sewing group. He sounded self-assured, even to the point of being arrogant, and I had a feeling he wanted some kind of monthly donation for the club, if we wish to continue with our activity in the club premises.
I immediately called Babunda, our ally and friend, the erstwhile chairman of the club committee. He informed that apparently the old brigade has been asked to leave in the last committee meeting. This change of guards was anticipated, following the state elections. The old members were veterans, all supporters of the communist party, which was in power. The new members are relatively young boys, eager to assume position of authority, owing allegiance to Trinamul Congress, the party in power now, in the state.
I told him that the boys hinted at donation, or rent, as they liked to put it, for keeping the sewing machines in the club, and for the women to assemble on Thursdays. He advised that selected members of our sewing group should accompany me when they call for the meeting and explain that the sewing project is for the benefit of their own sisters and mothers. We then called for an urgent meeting the next week to talk about the impending issue.
Sharmila, Mousumi and Arpita all wanted to be present when the boys called us. They added that if it seem unlikely that they become convinced that it’s for their family’s interest and relent, then we should offer a small amount as rent, which we will then try to generate each month through work, as a compulsion. This would be the eustress we need to get work.
We were all happy to garner some positive targets from a negative situation. With this encouraging parting promise we concluded the month, with hopes high for the future.”