Jaigaon Diaries II: The Women of Deorali

After a sleepless night, I was not looking forward to the day but things improved as soon as we took the detour towards Manglabadi area, veering off the town road into the villages. The town of Jaigaon is noisy, dirty and largely charmless but the villages around it are beautiful. The rains make sure that there is plenty of verdure and the people not only look astonishingly fresh, they also have the open hearts and friendly smiles that village people are known for.

We traveled on rough village roads, which looked strangely white in the sun, past little huts of bamboo and wood, some on stilts; a public bathing place where the women looked up at us unabashedly; fields of maize, orange and gold; and often, the mountains of Bhutan were visible in the distance.

(I realized later the roads are so white because they consist of stones and gravel rather than mud and these are continually washed and eroded whenever it rains. In fact, during heavy rains, many of these village roads cease to be roads and become streams instead.)

One of the first communities we visited was the Khokla settlement (or basti) at Deorali. A quiet lane stretched out next to betelnut plantations; people squatted outside the huts cooking; children played; goat kids grazed. The jeep stopped outside a house and a delicate-featured girl wearing a nightdress jumped in. Her sinuous arms were encircled by armlets. She talked animatedly in the mellifluous Nepalese language. Later, I found out that the women often wear these night dresses while working in the fields; they are cheaper than pants and more comfortable than sarees or salwar kameezes.

As I met more people from the settlement, I was struck by how strong and free the women looked. They told me about the forestation project they are working on; they are growing about two lakh trees on 35 hectares of land. Some of them also work in their own farms and on a dam-building project. These women are strong and used to hard physical labour.

I don’t know what it is about them that fascinated me so much–possibly their free, unselfconscious mannerisms, their apparent contentment, their fresh faces and easy smiles.

I went back to meet them the next day. I had told them that I would be taking photos so some of them had dressed up for the occasion. I spent about two hours with them, chatting about their lives, children, loneliness and living in equality with men.

For this had struck me about them–that many of them live alone (their husbands work in Bhutan or other far-off places) and they seem to share responsibility equally with the men in the community, along with a relationship of easy laughter and camaraderie. I asked them what the secret of their equality was. They thought it was probably because they worked alongside the men in the fields and confidently said that they would not stop working for anything.

They told me why they like living in the villages–because they are close to nature, and to their friends. They laughed and said such friendship is not possible in the city. I agreed with them.

Then they told me they were educating their daughters in the hope that they would work in offices in the city. But you like the village, I pointed out. Yes, but we don’t want them to do hard physical labour like us, they said.

They have a strong sense of dignity. They told me about another reporter who had come to visit them and gone into their houses, asked them how many people lived there, how many rooms there were. They did not appreciate it, naturally. Why should this be hard for journalists to understand? Why do we think it’s okay to barge into the homes of people and make an obtrusive, obnoxious nuisances of ourselves just because they are poorer than us?

Their pride in their work was also evident. They wanted to be photographed in the fields with the saplings they planted last year.

Later, we sat in the fields, in a close circle. They asked me why I didn’t have children yet and nodded understanding when I said I was scared it would curb my freedom and mobility. There were hurried whispers and Leela, one of the younger girls, was sent off. She returned with two glasses and a large kettle from which she poured orange squash for me. I was touched by the hospitality. She had obviously been instructed to run home, make squash and transport it to the fields in whatever vessel she could find.

When I was leaving, they asked if they would see me again and I nodded while thinking to myself that it was unlikely. Unbelievably, I felt a pang. I thought of them long after the car had left them behind waving and smiling.

Is it possible, I wondered, that somehow thousands of miles from home, among these village women, I had found something like friendship? And yet, their world is totally different and I am nothing but an interloper. Perhaps, it is all a question of relative differences. Among women who have grown up in more or less similar circumstances, I expect to discover similarities and notice differences more. Here, where I expected to have nothing in common, I was surprised by the number of ways in which we are the same.

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9 Comments

Filed under Culture, Places

9 responses to “Jaigaon Diaries II: The Women of Deorali

  1. Isabel

    I found this account of your encounter with these seemingly ‘ordinary’ women fascinating. You can tell by the pictures and their easy smiles that they were comfortable with you.

    What language did you speak to them? You mention some were Nepalese-speaking. I assume they also spoke Bengali?

    Where will your article be published?

  2. Anonymous

    I think your experience is fascinating and heartwarming! It is very easy to relate to, and I sensed your easy attachment and sadness when you left the women of Jaigaon. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  3. N

    isabel: Thank you. It was fascinating for me as well. Most of them spoke a smattering of Hindi and Bengali but mainly Nepalese.

    I was visiting them because I work with an NGO that works there. I do want to write an article about them but not sure where to publish it. Thinking about it!

    anon: Thank you…yes, I did feel strangely attached.

  4. Rajiv Lama

    Dear Ma’am,

    i would like to join the NGO could you pliz tell me how i should go forward.

    Thanks

    Rajiv Lama
    C/o Mr JB Lama
    Triveni Tol
    Jaigaon

  5. sachin singh

    i m from jaigaon a place of haven
    really it is a place werwe we can servive

  6. lakpa

    Once upon a time I often wondered that Khokla or even Jaigaon is neither in the interest of the government nor in the interest of the public of the outside world-media for that matter. This places often got noticed for something notorious, for some criminal activities or in the recent past for agitation on the demand for Gorkhaland and continued ethnic clashes.
    I have walked to the schools at Jaigaon all the way from Khokla and now it is a matter of pride for me to have completed my engineering and landed up with one of the coveted jobs.I have achieved the burning ambition which was grained in me since my childhood.
    As I browsed through the web seeking information on what can be done in an efficient, convincing and productive for the people of this place, it was a relief to read and understand that this place has been an attraction for NGOs atleast. Thank You so much Anindita!
    I often visit my hometown(village) and it hurts me to see my old friends, elders and seniors and my village in the same state as before. There is no economic development in the area and hence they are where they were! Some of my old village friends are out of West Bengal to support their family.
    With my personal interest to develop the economy of this place, I have been seeking advise from some of my accomplice who are into community service. I am sure in few years to come, I can make some difference by bringing in Economic Independence.

  7. navin chhetri

    jaigaon the place next to heaven.i was born in paro bhutan but ma dad being indian he settle down at village khokla.people says its a backward place but why dont they try to bring khokla forward.i m proud to b frm khokla bcos what m todae.completd ma b.com nd now m runnin ma own business at kolkata.i stil remember the daes that i used to go to school by foot,completely 5km dist.i usd to cross river called gobargjiti and jogi khola.i can remember dat evn lakpa sherpa also used to cros those rivers.Govt hav done nothing for development of khokla.i hardly go to khokla bt i love it.i wish i cud change the scenereo of khokla.

  8. A

    i am a student in jaigaon…i would love to join your NGO and help in every possible way… i request you to give me your email address so that i can contact you..i am willing to help in every way possible

  9. Oh greatness of you all. Thanks a lot. Today it happen me to go through searching for some information regarding the wild elephants continue daily movements at night time and destroying the crops, lives and houses of poor villagers of entire Khokla- Toribari Busty which comprises of Old Khokla Busty, JOT, Kharkhola busty, Deorali, Gotibari, Himali Toll/Jetha Rai – Mandir line, Thapa line, Nala satak, New Khokla Busty, Tamang Line, Sanyashi Line etc. The entire busty is adjoining to a Long Forest Nilpara Range and Barsha Regular River which turns very violent during rainy seasons, The village area of Toribari-Khokla Busty is developing or improving very slowly since my childhood recently electrification is going on but still there are none pacca / black top roads, very difficult of drinking waters. Presently only one West Bengal Govt. primary school (Sarswati Nepali Primary School) in whole village almost seven thousands people resides here and their main profession are cultivation of paddy, maize, beetle nuts, ginger etc. from main high way it’s a kilometer distance the village starts. The Governments or the concerned departments are not doing anything permanent improvements or developments works here it has two big seasonal dry river which are very danger in the rainy seasons besides its there are more than ten small dry streams which too becomes violent during rainy seasons. During my child I remember there were only one church in entire busty but now there are more than 7 church, 2 temples, 3 monasteries and One Natural Universal Healing Centre with Prayer and Meditation of Heavenly Path Organization of West Bengal registered with West Bengal Govt. Society Act. under my own president-ship and guidance trying to provide free treatments and making awareness about our life and our most important religion or believe is to serve all human being, animals and nature with compassionate love and care besides our caste, gender, communities, religions. Earlier it was very cool & calm and purity of nature was there but due to many industries(Calcium Carbide, Cement, Beer, Juices, Silicon Ferro alloys, powder, dairy …) started by Bhutan in side by the boarder adjoining the village, forest and tea gardens area day by day the area is being polluting and many diseases being started but no one is caring- bothering at all. In the same time since last year the wild elephants, monkeys are start making their visits rapidly daily and ransacking the crops, houses, fields etc. but no any steps are taking by the concerned government officials hence trying to contact over some organization who all can provide us with some major helps but they are also asking for proof or evidences. So, on my search it happen to get in here.This Toribari-Khokla Busty comes under Jaigaon – I Gram Panchayat, Kalchini, Block (11 ST Kalchini constituency) Sub-division & District – Alipurduar of West Bengal, India.

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