Lockdown: How tribal women in West Bengal district got sanitary napkins, baby food for ₹1
Cut off from towns and with no local shops, the women of Chakra, Boraldingha, Piskapahari and other villages in region bordering Jharkhand had no access to sanitary napkins till the first week of May.Updated: Jun 04, 2020 14:50 IST
For hundreds of tribal women in Purulia district, 290 km away from Kolkata, a group of local college students emerged as saviours during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Cut off from towns and with no local shops, the women of Chakra, Boraldingha, Piskapahari and other villages in a region bordering Jharkhand had no access to sanitary napkins till the first week of May.
And then appeared a small travelling market with not only the napkins, but baby food, cereals, face masks and other items, all being sold for just a rupee.
Using personal savings and contributions from friends, the college students had initially launched relief operations in April. “We started by distributing cooked food and dry rations but soon realised that people in these parts needed something more. Thus came the idea of starting the Ek takar bajar (one rupee market),” said Atanu Tikait, the Purulia resident who planned the project.
“While food has so far been served in 23 villages, the market has visited five tribal areas,” Tikait said. The next market will be held on June 5.
“We bought a range of necessary items from wholesalers and carried these from one village to the next on our motorcycles. The response was overwhelming,” said Tikait, who has completed a course at an industrial training institute in Kolkata.
Selling sanitary napkins in tribal villages was not easy and women among the students had to take charge.
“A lot of inhibitions come into play. It was not possible for men to run the makeshift stall. I went door to door, telling women that there was nothing wrong in buying an essential item. We projected the effort as a buyer-seller meet. The experience overwhelmed me,” said Maushumi Mahato, a second-year student in Bengali literature.
The group sold more than 1,000 packets of sanitary napkins.
“We could have distributed the items free, just like the food and rations, but the villagers might have felt that we are taking pity on them. That would have hurt their self-esteem,” said Tikait.
Members of the group are shy of publicity and photos or videos of their activities cannot be widely found on social media. Tikait, however, meticulously posts details of every food camp and “one rupee market” and individually mentions those who have made voluntary contributions. Many of the benefactors live in Kolkata and other urban areas.
“Till date, we have not appealed to anyone for financial help. We have not even registered ourselves as an NGO. One may not believe it, but all the work done so far has cost a little more than Rs 1 lakh. There has been no expense on transport, publicity and establishment. We don’t use the money even to buy petrol for our motorcycles,” said Tikait.
Though not covered by mainstream media, people on social media have noticed the students and many are helping.
“Don’t stop because of money,” Dharitri Goswami, a medical officer, wrote on Tikait’s social media page last week. The students have also contributed to a trust in the Sunderbans to help people affected by Cyclone Amphan.