I met the family on one of my routine weekly visits to meet Milaap borrowers. When I entered the house and asked for Aarti Singha, we were met by Tanushree. A young girl with an assertive tone, was a sharp contrast from most women I had met so far. Her voice echoed confidence and her presence demanded respect, such was the aura of being around Tanushree.
The purpose of my visit involved getting an account of how her mother, the borrower, used funds disbursed to her. I began with simple questions, because I saw very hesitant answers from Aarti. I soon realised that her part in the decision-making was negligible. Tanushree took over, and patiently walked me through what they did with the money. The family owns a books and stationery distribution shop. The business was set up by her father and gave the family decent returns. He would go door-to-door selling stationery items to several shops and schools. They also own a small shop stocking their goods. “Both, me and my father manage the shop together. But he is aging now and needs more rest. It is my duty to manage the operations,” informed Tanushree.
Tanushree was very clear on the fact that the success of the business was up to her. She did not seem burdened with all the responsibility and she had not been forced into it. She has finished her Bachelors in Arts from Taki College, West Bengal and for her, that is the end of her responsibility towards herself.
Fascinated, I was asking her more about her educational aspirations when her mother interrupted me.
Just before I left, Tanushree asked me about where I was from and how old I was. When I answered her question, she said, “You can do this because cities have so many more opportunities than here. I wish I did too.”
As I began walking out carrying the baggage of my thoughts, a man (a neighbour) walked up to me and began to chat.
Man : “She will never get married"
Me : “Why?"
Man : “She is too MAN-ly to be accepted by any one in the village."
Me: “But she has done so much for the family, doesn’t she command some respect in return?"
Man : “She works hard. But she can’t be ‘the married wife’. She will be a problem to the family where she goes."
Me : "But what sort of problem? In fact, the fact that she knows so much about running a home and a business can be a precious asset to the family."
Man : "That's the problem, she will now demand respect and state opinions. No one needs that kind of trouble in their life!"
There are always choices each one of us needs to make. A choice to take our life in a certain direction. But to do so, we need to navigate many social structures. Sometimes they inspire us to rise above, and do more and succeed. But some prevent us from achieving our true potential. Some of us are born in circumstances that let us disregard the expectations others have of us and not be punished for it. While others like Tanushree end up paying a price. Tanushree made her choice, and made it with pride and honour. Instead of respect for all that she has accomplished, she lives with the knowledge that she will never be accepted.
Everyone tends to think only of the helpless women as the ones that need to be saved. The stories of these women who don't give up get left behind. They too need support and encouragement. These unsung heroines need to not be criticised but be supported and appreciated for all that they do for what is important to them. It’s time to appreciate their courage and do what we can to make their life a little easier by accepting them for who they are.