[This week we bring forward the story of Radhika Devi, vegetables vendor from Jorhat. If the readers would like to support her financially, please send us message. Admin]
Radhika: Paddles Bicycle and Breaks Stereotypes in Jorhat
Radhika is paddling for a while in Jorhat, Assam. She is probably the first vegetable vendor on a bicycle in Jorhat town. The COVID pandemic and lockdown proved cruel for her. ‘I have no choice. No one is here to support me at this moment. I have to come out and do this work’, Radhika narrates. She is 45 years old and mother of 5 children Radhika is currently living with her ailing son and managing everything with meager income. Radhika’s second son, his wife and grandson are staying with her. She is looking after them and feeding them as well. ‘ My son is unwell and I cant let him work in this condition. He is not keeping well. So there is pressure on me to earn more’, Radhika’s describes her precarious income situation.
During the lockdown, people helped Radhika with vegetables and cash amount of about 300 rupees. Government has provided her food items like rice, oil, salt and pulses. These provisions are far from being enough. Radhika realized that days ahead are going to be hard. She owns a small vegetable shop. Despite this, her problem to manage two meals a day remains a challenge. Police is not allowing her to open the shop. Finding no option, Radhika sold some vegetables in her neighbourhood, collected 600 rupees and bought a second hand bicycle. Repairing the bicycle cost additional 350 rupees. Once the bicycle is ready, Radhika found a new hope. She loaded the bicycle with vegetables and started selling in the neighbourhood. The bicycle provided her the little mobility she required.
‘With this bicycle I visit the nearby villages and sell vegetables’. However, she urgently needed a weighing machine. Good sale during lockdown helped her to save a small amount and she bought a weighing machine costing 600 rupees. Her savings allowed her to buy two more baskets to carry vegetables. Baskets were tied to the bicycle and proved convenient to carry few extra kgs of vegetables. ‘I am not keeping well these days and on medication. I had a terrible past and beat my chest whenever I was angry. Now I am having chest pain. I went to the hospital and done cough testing. The reports are alright. But still I am having a lot of difficulties to do the work. I am not so good in cycling’, Radhika said.
Radhika has 5 children: 3 sons and two daughters. Currently her eldest son is in Bihar and does not support her. He is married, has 3 children and expecting one more. Middle son has one son, and expecting another one. Younger son is unmarried works in Delhi. Her elder daughter is widow and has two children. Younger daughter is married with 2 children and living nearby.
Radhika had a hard life. When she was one year old her mother died after giving birth to another daughter and that baby died too. She was married to a person from Bihar. They had big age gap. Initially her family was reluctant to the marriage but finally decided to go ahead. Marriage was not a happy one. He would work as casual labour, buy some rice, daal for home and spend rest of the earning in gambling. A family of 7 persons including five kids hardly had enough to manage hand to mouth. Radhika worked most of her life as domestic worker. Once she was hospitalized for three weeks due to poor health. Her husband was not supportive. She thinks she suffered along with the whole family because of an irresponsible husband. She tried to influence him to understand his responsibilities, but it became impossible. Then finally she decided. One fine day, she walked out and started living separately. Her children followed her. Her husband died after a year due to alcoholism. It’s been 7 years now.
Radhika began her new life alone after separation. She opened a small pan shop at the roadside. With the earnings from pan shop, she opened a tea stall in front of the local court. Police asked her to move away and shift to another place. However it was expensive for her to move the shop to another place. So she sold the shop.
With a bank loan to pay, Radhika had no option but to return to her old pan shop. Her son’s illness made her a loan defaulter. She couldn’t afford the bank installment. One of her son started working outside and used to send her 500 to 1000 rupees per month. It was not enough to survive. The pan shop came into rescue. Soon that was not enough too. Then she decided to get involved in vegetable business.
These days, Radhika is selling vegetables in several locations. ‘I have been to Sonari gaon, Kakoti gaon, Bamun gaon, Sonali Jayanti Nagar. Customers appreciate her efforts. People took my picture and uploaded in Facebook. I feel encouraged’, Radhika said.
However, Radhika doesn’t feel encouraged with the response from government during lockdown. ‘I haven’t got much help from the government except the ration and Rs. 500 in the zero balance account. I have not received any support to procure cooking gas. People from gas company explained which I don’t understand being not so educated’, Radhika laments.
Radhika feels handicapped for not being educated enough. ‘I just know to write my name. I lost my mother at a very young age and grew up with my step-mother’. Radhika feels if her own mother were alive, she would have lived a better life.
Radhika regrets being married to an old man from Bihar who was not healthy. Earnings were spent on his treatment leaving very little to run the family. She feels sad for her eldest daughter who was married off but unfortunately her husband had an early death soon after the marriage. She is working and managing herself.
Radhika’s younger son in Delhi couldn’t return home due to lockdown. He lost his job because the construction work stopped and ran out of money. Radhika couldn’t support him financially. Her younger daughter sent 1500 rupees to him in Delhi to manage somehow. He is in fear of being quarantined. So decided to stay on in Delhi and wait for the lockdown to be lifted.
Radhika believes in God and also her bicycle. ‘If God blesses me, if I could keep some good items, then my business will grow. It will be good if I can get a good place to run the business. It will be also good if I get a better vehicle’, Radhika’s thought for future.
Paddling a bicycle is not convenient for Radhika. She finds it difficult and fell down thrice in last few weeks. A tricycle or three-wheeler would be convenient for her to continue her business. Still she keeps on paddling and dreams for better days ahead. Her dream to sell more good quality vegetables, to feed her family good meals every day and bring a smile, keeps her busy.