A police officer hunting down the most vicious traffickers to a woman in the timber business breaking the myth that women and woodworking don't get along to a human rights lawyer fighting cases in a new language, running around courtrooms, police stations and village interiors for trafficked women and children - this International Women's Day we are celebrating the theme 'Be Bold for Change' at the Woodgeek Store.
A 23-year-old Sarbari joined police training as the only girl in a batch of 220 men. That was the first of the many firsts she was to experience in the future. After her training, when she was posted as a sub-inspector, she thought the worst of her struggle was over. But it had only begun. Sarbari's colleagues and seniors were not ready to accept that a young lady sub-inspector would wear the same uniform as them and work alongside them in a prominent police station in West Bengal. So they did the only thing they could do: resist.
Despite all the humiliation, Sarbari was relentless. She forced them to give her work and train her as an investigating officer. She struggled her way through to be accepted as a competent police officer.
Today Sarbari Bhattacharya is the officer-in-chief of the Anti Human Trafficking Unit of the CID, West Bengal. She says that there is a lot of disappointment and backlash in her job.
Most of the rescued girls are so habituated in the life they have, they don’t want to return to their previous lives.
"The rescued women don't want to come back and be earmarked a prostitute but I have to bring them back. Sometimes the parents don’t want the girls back after hearing that they were forced into prostitution. These girls are then sent to shelter homes but the shame of prostitution follows them. Being a woman, I can relate to the stigmatization they face," says Sarbari.
In cases that Sarbari and her team manage to make arrests, most of them get off on bail. Most cases take years to start and when they do, either the girl is re-trafficked or the parents secretly marry her off or she commits suicide. Despite these hurdles, Sarbari is taking her team forward.
"We face so much backlash that when we do move forward, we’re unstoppable. The more you pull an arrow back, the more force it hits with. We have rescued over 200 victims. It is our duty to serve the country despite the criticism and disappointments. You have to be passionate about the job to survive in it," says Sarbari.
Sarbari is of the opinion that that girls between the age of 16 to 20 must be taught the difference between sex and compulsion sex because these girls leave their houses thinking they’re going into a better life, but they don’t know what it is like to attend to 35 customers a day for Rs 200 every 10 minutes.She does not believe that girls get trafficked due to poverty or lack of education.
"Some of the girls are molested by family members from a very young age and when they try to speak up, they are quieted by the family itself. So at the age of 16, they don’t understand the purity of sex. They detach from their family and look for a better life elsewhere," says Sarbari.
The situation is very different from what Sarbari had to face in 1989. Law has made it a lot easier for women today. There are women police stations now. A male officer cannot enter a room without a female police during raids. No male police officer can question a female victim in the absence of a female colleague.
Women like Sarbari make their own rules and fight for their rights. They're the game changers in society and as history has shown us, it is these women who make history. Know somebody as fearless as Sarbari, this engraved bamboo wood journal is for all those women challenging this notion everyday.
Mithu is the only woman contractor enlisted with the West Bengal Small Industries Development Corporation in over 80 contractors. She took over her father's furniture business not out of will but circumstances. She loved watching the woodworking at her father's workshop at their home.
"I have a knack to learn things and I enjoyed looking at furniture being made at the workshop. But never in my wildest dreams had I thought of becoming a contractor. My father wanted me to have a government job so I was even preparing for competitive exams," says Mithu.
Mithu started handling the sales and marketing of their business when it became too much for her father to handle. She went to the office of the West Bengal Small Industries Development Corporation all alone and figured her way out. Her father looked after the workshop and purchasing of raw materials. A few months later, Mithu's father had a cerebral attack and passed away suddenly.
"Being the oldest in the family and the only one associated with the business, responsibilities fell on me. I was clueless about production. I did look at work being done at the workshop but never looked at the technicalities of the work. I didn’t know where my father bought wood from and to top it all, we faced financial difficulties too," says Mithu.
Mithu's ancestral house was mortgaged and she had to pay a huge amount to the bank. Being a student, Mithu had no other way to repay the money than business. Her three siblings were studying and her mother and aunt were ill. She started going to work early in the morning, ate the tiffin her mother sent for her through her brother and went off to give tuition the rest of the day.
"I was working two jobs - handling the business and giving tuition. We needed all the money I could make," says Mithu.
She learnt about the sections of wood and asked questions to as many people she could because she had no one to rely on and did not want to get fooled by anyone.
Mithu's Elegant Interiors mostly dealt in office furniture when her father looked after the business. But Mithu expanded the business to private work too. People who liked the work she did for the government departments gave her personal orders. Slowly but surely, she also built a local foundation.
It is very rare to find a woman contractor even though there are many contractors who have companies registered in their wive's names. But Mithu never faced any discrimination for being the only woman contractor with the WBSIDC.
"Only a year after my father passed away, I worked with the Behala Archeological Museum. I made the display for the artifacts. I even worked on the chamber of former Minister for Micro and Small Scale Enterprises and Textile, Swapan Debnath," says Mithu.
Ask her about her biggest achievement and she replies proudly:
Women are named after hurricanes because of strong women like Mithu. She chased after the worst of storms instead of turning away from them and emerged stronger. This personalized bamboo wood journal is the best Women's Day gift for women who have stood tall in the face of adversity.
Marie studied law to become a litigation lawyer. She knew her strength lied in fighting cases in the court room.
Marie moved to Kolkata to work as a litigation lawyer for trafficked women and children. She liked the idea of helping young girls and children and assisting the police in rescuing them from prostitution.
Little did Marie know that she would have to fight cases in an unknown language at the lower courts.
"Having someone translate what the victim was saying also took away from the personal bond that I could create with her. I had to learn Bengali to work effectively so I took a one year crash course in Bengali. I encouraged people to talk to me in Bengali," says Marie.
Marie provides legal counselling to trafficked women and children. She helps the rescued women build their confidence because most of them are so shaken up.
"I believe that if you cannot fight for yourself, you will always be picked on and exploited. These women will have to be restored into their normal environment and they will have to stand up to the stigma against them. They have to understand that whatever happened to them wasn't their fault," says Marie.
Marie is considered an aggressive lawyer. She will go to any lengths for her clients even if that involves going to the interiors of Bengal and meeting the client's family to educate them on their legal rights. When the victim's family is threatened by the accused, she takes them to the police station, helps them lodge a complaint and submits took a copy of the complaint to the High Court saying that the accused persons are tampering with the case.
In one of her most memorable cases, she got the High Court to rule against a lower court for not providing compensation to a victim after two years. The lower court had convicted the accused but had not passed a judgment on Marie's petition for compensation for the victim who was forced into prostitution and had a baby out of it. So she filed a compensation petition at the High Court and after 2 years, the High Court decided against the lower court.
Women like Marie can be ferocious, powerful and strong when it comes to fighting for themselves and their kind. This Women's Day, gift this personalized bamboo wood journal to someone who is more than her size.
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