Women street vendors in Nagaland: Story of courage, resilience and family
Kohima, Oct. 22 (EMN): Naga women have always played a key role in shouldering the responsibility of their homes and families, actively contributing to the economy of the society.
‘Racing against the Sun’, a 9:17 minute-long movie produced by the Entrepreneurs Associate NER, is a story based on women street vendors and their struggles from Pfutsero, a small town in Phek district in Nagaland.
The movie shows how women vendors from Pfutsero buy vegetables on Friday from farmers to be taken to the Saturday bazaar in Dimapur.
It shows how women, who out of sheer compulsion and due to lack of other opportunities, step out of their homes to take up the livelihood activities, travelling on the Nagaland State Transport (NST) night buses.
They take the painstaking effort to travel the 134 km distance, knowing the risks of a possible vehicular break down along the way, owing to the poor condition of the bus, as they are unable to afford private vehicles.
They confirm that they have incurred huge losses, when vehicles break down because the vegetables get spoiled; which they end up dumping by the side of the road.
“The story is same for many other women and districts,” it is said in the movie.
Achule Wetsa is a mother of four, who started working when her youngest child was less than a year old, to support her family.
She said: “I started leaving my kids before the youngest child even turned one in 2004. I would be desperate to sell my vegetables so that I could rush back home to see my children.
“We vendors do so, despite these hardships, to earn enough for buying ‘salt and chilly’, one exercise book, even one pencil, as we do not have salaried jobs,” Wetsa revealed. She also shared her dream of keeping her children well, despite hardships and challenges.
Another women vendor, Neiweu Kapfo also shared her story as a single-mother of two who travels two times a week.
“I do not have job, my children are in school; so they have their expenditures. Hence if I do not do this, what will I do? My husband is dead and I am a widow looking after my mother and my two children. I have no option but to continue doing this till I die,” Kapfo said.
She also shared the difficulties and challenges that the vendors face. She said, “Our NST (bus) is not too good, so it breaks down anywhere. So we are then unable to move on and it’s difficult to get another vehicle. So our vegetables get spoiled. At times we do not reach the bazaar on time and fail to recover even our capital.”
Velutalu Vadeo, another women vendor shared that, “we do not have huge capital to invest in other businesses and hence this does not require much capital; we can buy and sell. Sometimes we have credit problems but this work requires less capital.”
The movie showed how very few people are aware of the journey and hardships undertaken to service urban kitchens; guardians of the rural economy, ensuring steady cash flow to villagers as many neighbouring villages are completely dependent on this trade for their source of hard cash.
It may be mentioned that in Kohima, women vendors throng the streets, roadsides and footpaths, starting their day at dawn and only ending late in the evening; with lots of challenges, including family caretaking, braving the forces/elements of nature and at times evictions from the authority. Yet at the end of the day, they are the breadwinners of their families.
However, there are no provisions from the local authorities to ensure their safety and other basic necessities; exposing them to health hazards in the absence of proper designated places. Instead, they are often regarded as encroachers of sidewalks and other bigger business establishments.
The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and regulations of Street Vending) Act 2014 still remains to be implemented, despite attempts from organisations like Nagaland Voluntary Consumers’ Organisation (NVCO) and Entrepreneurs Associates (EA) to uplift the women street vendors in the state.