DIMAPUR, AUGUST 25: The relaxation in lockdown from August 17 in Dimapur has given a fresh lease of hope to women belonging to the marginalized sections. The sporadic lockdown measures, starting from the month of March in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, have dealt a severe blow to the section of women, who earn a livelihood for their families through manual labour or selling mostly local vegetables and fruits by the roadside.
Charitable assistance during the pandemic has largely eluded a majority of these women engaged in the unorganized sectors. A peep into the lives of these marginalized women tells a sorry tale of hungry children, failing health, anguish and poverty. But with normalcy creeping back, albeit at a slow pace, these women are returning to the urbane locales of Dimapur peddling wares and labour.
With relaxations in the market timings and opening of the border areas, many women can be seen walking long distances, whilst some cycling, from the fringes of the commercial capital to the town, some pleading people to hire them as house help, while others seeking prospective customers for local food items and vegetables they carry along for sale on their back. But with the fear of the Coronavirus still lurking, the success rate for these marginalized women of earning even a meagre amount is dismal with many residents of Dimapur unwilling to let them near their gates, or even talk to them. There still lingers a prejudice against allowing entry of strangers into colonies and stigma towards the poor vis-à-vis the COVID-19 threat. This Scribe has observed many such women being turned away rudely, or even told to get out of residential areas. And they move on to the next house or the next colony.
Talking to Nagaland Page, a house help Monwara Begum said, “Life was cruel to me and my family after the lockdown. I am not the only one affected; there are hundreds of women undergoing the same hardships and there seems to be no end to our plight.”
Daily both Naga and non-Naga young and middle-aged women can be seen moving from door to door persuading residents to purchase their wares, which range from fresh leaves, herbs and vegetables, live chicken, snails, local fish, sticky rice cakes and exotic local condiments, etc. Many can be seen setting up temporary shops by the roadside.
Standing beside her assortment of vegetables on the footpath near the Dimapur City Tower, Khetoli a middle-aged Naga lady said, “We are able to earn barely one or two hundred rupees and that too not on a daily basis. Often we are left with plenty of unsold stuff due to fewer customers. Most people are procuring the necessary items from sellers in their own colonies.” Affirming that the women are facing the brunt of the situation, she narrated how she wakes up at the crack of dawn, rushes to the Super Market and MP Road to purchase vegetable from whole-sellers, and sits by the roadside from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. waiting for a few customers. “Often we have deal with some difficult customers, who want unreasonable bargains,” she said.
“It is astonishing that majority of footpath vendors are women from the marginalized communities reeling under poverty. Life in the time of COVID-19 really has been cruel to them,” said social activist Jimomi G. Kakheto Naga, while purchasing vegetables from vendors at the City Tower area.
This Scribe noticed six women huddled together peddling vegetables and fruits in one corner. On being queried, one of the women, namely Jyotsna said that she, along with five others, has pooled in their resources to purchase the food items to sell as none of them have the capacity to set up shop single-highhandedly. “We don’t have resources to open a roadside shop on our own but jointly we are able to do so and with very less scope of work for our men, the women of the families have to try to sustain the household by selling food items. We are able to survive with much difficulty but this is the only way.” She further voiced serious concern about the survival of families like theirs if the lockdown is prolonged. The pandemic has apparently seen the emergence of the trend of two or more women from poor families pooling in their resources to set up shops together to sustain their families.
Meanwhile, the daily struggle for these women is compounded manifolds due to the non-availability of public toilets in the town. Use of public toilets, which are anyway pretty few in numbers, has been prohibited to check the spread of the COVID-19 virus during the pandemic. “This is a big problem we face,” said a woman vendor. When it was pointed out that the closure of public toilets has been necessitated due to the pandemic, she replied, “Even otherwise too, who cares about our well being and our basic requirements?”
These marginalized women represent the invisibilization of women in society and state, which is reflected in our patriarchal-centric non-inclusive policy-making and governance and implementation thereof. But however marginalized and invisibilized, they prove that more and more of the sky is being held by women.