Gaining strength from struggle

SLOWLY BUT SURELY·VHS (PAL)· colour·30 mins·English and Hindi·Directed by Chandita Mukerjee·Comet Media Foundation, Mumbai

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

PRESENTING a story set in a not very captivating environment and yet command- ing the attention of the audience, the film portrays the trials and tribulations of the women of Kotra village, Rajasthan, who are struggling to assert themselves.

The film is about the efforts of these women, who are involved in tendu leaf collection, to obtain better remuneration for their produce. Coming from a background where the male members are invariably away looking for better sources of income, these women share the responsibility of providing for their family by selling tendu leaves, the richest forest product available in their village, which are used for making bidis.

A large proportion of the returns from this trade, which involves around 40,000 people every season, used to be pocketed by a series of intermediaries including traders, revenue officials and policepersons. The struggle began with the formation of the Tendu Leaf Struggle Committee, which was successful in eliminating most of the intermediaries. This enabled the women to obtain a raise in income from Rs seven-eight to Rs 33 per kg of tendu leaves over a period of five years.

At the same time, while going through the processes of plucking, counting, selecting, making bundles and delivering the final product, these women are cautious enough not to mishandle the trees that provide them livelihood. As the commentator in the film says -- "what they need, they take and use, what they can sell they try to sell, but they never cripple the forest. "

The success of their efforts has not only improved their economic position but has also given them the confidence to assert themselves. These women are now helping their counterparts in neighbouring villages to improve their earning capacity, educate their children and assert themselves in local affairs by speaking up on the issues that touch their lives. Their organisation, the Adivasi Vikas Manch, now provides them a platform for collective action to deal with their problems.

Slowly but surely, as the name suggests, projects the gradual but definite transformation of these women from a state of helplessness to a position of strength. They can now demand their rights as empowered beings. The process of their struggle, which saw many setbacks initially, has given them the strength and the perseverance to continue the fight to protect their living environment. With good picture and sound quality, this is a well-made film that depicts the strength of women and the power of community struggle in general.

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