Putting out a helping hand

  • 14/11/1993

AFTER the gut-churning revelations of Let Her Die, a good film on Indian women is a relief. Jhilmili Story, made by K Bikram Singh for the Council for Advancement People's Action & Rural Technology (CAPART), documents the genesis and growth of the Nari Vikas Sangh in Bankura district in West Bengal. Born out of the employment needs of impoverished Santhal women, this self-help organisation was fostered by the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS), Delhi, which was asked by the West Bengal government in 1980 to help find a solution to the problems of migrant women workers in the area.

Since then the project has grown, from a single tassar (silkworm) plantation reared by the first Nari Vikas Samiti, to a grouping of 19 such samitis of which the Nari Vikas Sangh is the apex body. A variety of locally sustained employment schemes, which avail of various government schemes, have been taken up. The women are now planning a social security scheme for the aged, a credit scheme, and are even aspiring to political empowerment in the panchayats.

All this is, however, narrated. Except for a single widow who talks about herself, the film noticeably lacks quotes from the women whose saga it narrates. Where people do speak in Bengali, an English voice-over is used, rather than subtitles. We do not hear the women recount setbacks or triumphs. Surely they have acquired the confidence to articulate their own experiences? If they had done so, the film would have carried more conviction.

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