PLANTING SEEDS OF WOMAN EMPOWERMENT IN DARJEELING'S TEA GARDENS As
I drove further, I could not believe my eyes. It was just like a scene in a movie, lush green tea gardens on both sides of the road, green hills with beautiful tea gardens and a clear blue sky. It was just like a heaven on earth. I realised that I was traversing through the world famous tea
gardens of world famous Darjeeling tea. I was very lucky that the CRPF camp I was based in was in Darjeeling district and I got an opportunity to drive through the tea gardens. I was trying to capture and store the scenery in my eyes. I was driving pass the tea gardens, looking at the tea farm workers plucking the tea leaves, looking at tea factories coming in my way. At one part of the tea gardens I saw many females working in the garden and I could not stop myself from parking my car on side and go to talk to those females.
Needless to say that they were also looking at my car and when they saw me stepping out of the car they seemed very surprised. They were astonished that a female can drive a vehicle. So perhaps none of them expected a lady driver stepping out of the car. As I walked to them, I saw them walking towards me with faces full of questions. Fortunately communication wasn't a problem as they could speak bit of Hindi mixed with Bengali and the police officer, my escort filled in the gaps. I am very happy that I had a chance to interact with those females. "What's written on your car?" One of the curious lady asked me. I just thought to myself that now we are talking! I readily took this opportunity to tell them about 'Save girls and educate girls ' as well as women empowerment. I asked them about their education and their lifestyle. They were from neighbouring villages working on a contract and on daily wedges. They were shocked when I told them that I have driven from London to here alone. Firstly they were perhaps seeing lady driver for the first time and now they had to digest the fact that I had driven solo all the way from UK. They knew name London and also new that it would be very far but obviously didn't know where exactly it was. First question after this was how did your husband allowed you to drive and that too this far. They asked me whether I had any children and who is looking after them. When I told them that my husband is looking after them there instant reaction was that males can't do that and males would never do that. One of them exclaimed that their husband would never do that as looking after family and looking after kids is female's responsibility. This was a very good opportunity for me to educate them about female empowerment. Being fortunate to have friends in Indian ministry at joint secretary and secretary levels I was aware and had seen the schemes of Indian government for such females. I informed and educated them about the government schemes, inspired them to be independent and empowered in all aspects of life including education and earning. I explained that if you were educated then you would have chosen educated husbands who could have supported you in your achievements as my husband did for me. I made them understood that it's not just female's responsibility to look after home and kids, it's a joint responsibility of husband and wife and that's how the family is balanced and so is the society. "We can't drive car like you," one of them expressed their problems. I explained that you don't have to drive the car to become empowered! I was capable and it was my passion hence I did it, your passion and expertise could be something else. Firstly you need to become mobile for which at least you can learn riding a bicycle or affording capacity comes then a small bike could do. You can travel in a bus also but be mobile, attend night schools to be educated and start doing something of your own. I am happy to come to your villages and have meetings with heads and your husbands to make them understand. I also motivated them about getting into politics as there are so many females now a days becoming heads of the villages and above. If they are in that position then they can use the power and authority for betterment of other females. They can start or bring new schemes to empower females.
It was time for me to leave from their as I had to reach to my next destination Patna in Bihar. It was a sad goodbye for all of us as they wanted to talk to me more and same with me also. I left from their on a positive note and a promise from those females that they would work on the things I told them and inspired them to do. I was very happy in myself as in the background of those lush green tea gardens I planted seeds of woman empowerment. The conversation and the topic is further elaborated in my forthcoming book in details. The white drive from Siliguri to Patna was full of such interesting encounters which would be elaborated in details in my book.