It’s not an ordinary day for Shafiya Khatun, a lady who grew up in Tingkhong to a family of Tanti, who married the man she loved and embraced the religion of her husband. Her father used to work in fields planting and harvesting tea for the most part of his life. As a child, when she saw her father work tirelessly, she had lots of questions and when she did not get the answer to her questions, it disturbed her.
She had the opportunity of getting a Shishu loan of Rs. 50,000, but every time her loan application got rejected because she is a woman whose husband has no job and is a drunkard; she worked as a daily labourer, gathered some savings to start a tea stall. But one day, without any notice, her stall was taken down by the municipality in the presence of police and media.
Her case came to the limelight due to a whistle-blower who wanted to go anonymous. She was a street vendor with her stall only a few meters away from the vending zone. She had her license from the municipality, yet her stall was taken down without any notice.
Jogi Jagannath, a social worker says, “Shafiya’s case is an example of how the Government cares for the self-employment and women empowerment while we have vibrant policies on startups coming up for the elites.”
As per the rule book, the Town Vending Committee that decides on street-vending comprises of the municipality, Traffic & Local Police, Public Land Owning Authority, associations, representatives from association of Street Vendors and representatives from leading nationalized banks/ commercial banks. Socio-Educational Welfare Association, one of the members in the committee says, “In Dibrugarh, since the formation of the Municipality Committee in 2015, till dated we had only one meeting. But as per law, we must have a meeting every year.” But is the board legitimate at all? In Assam, there are no street vendors associations at the district level which can represent the interest of street vendors in the Town Vending Committee.
As per regulations, if a street vendor’s stall does not fall under the perimeter of the vending zone, his/ her goods will be confiscated by the police. But perishable goods will be returned. In Shafiya’s case, it was not done. She lost her inventory and raw materials for food. Also, she did not get the notice. On asking Socio Educational Welfare Association, they were totally unaware of any such demolition although it was the duty as a member to send one of its representatives as a witness to the site.
Since the investigation happened, no conclusion arose from the same. Shafiya disappeared. Another lady set up her stall in Shafiya’s place. But Shafiya is nowhere to be found. Some suggested her to go to a Muslim youth organization but she came back empty handed. The lady who ran the family consisting of three sons and a husband single- handedly is nowhere to be found now.
In a tea estate, a woman is not allowed to get a loan because she does not own a house or have a decent income; there are women who venture into entrepreneurial paths just to see their dreams being crushed by institutions that are openly flouting rules.
The author is a National Media Fellow, and this article is a part of his work which is supported by National Foundation for India.