New Business, New Freedom
After 9 months of relationship-building, a new freedom business helmed by an Indian couple has opened its doors in the town of Dhulian, Murshidabad. As of now, six courageous women have started their training with this Freeset Business Incubator initiative and together they will work to build freedom for more women.
As our car came to a stop, I could see an Indian man just around the corner with a big smile waving at us. The man’s name was Subhendu. I had just arrived in Dhulian, West Bengal with a group who wanted to learn more about Freeset and the growth it is seeing. Dhulian is a town near the Bangladesh border, a place women are trafficked from into larger cities such as Kolkata and Mumbai. Subhendu and his wife Priya moved here recently to establish a new business that can offer the choice of freedom to women at risk of being trafficked and those wanting to leave the sex trade.
Subhendu led us through the town into a narrow street. The walls were covered in posters with text I could not understand. In small open spaces or sitting on the sidewalk, I saw men and young boys making “bidis”- tobacco rolled in dried leaves. I couldn’t believe that children were making cigarettes instead of being at school. It was child labor right before my eyes.
When we arrived at Subhendu’s home, we were greeted by Priya and his youngest daughter. We were invited into a room whose walls covered with drawings created by their children. It was a new world inside. We sat down to hear their story and Subhendu proudly made it known to us that Priya ‘wears the pants’ in their house. Priya and Subhendu are both community workers who were part of the first Freedom Exposure Team (an internship program the Freeset Business Incubator started for Indian nationals). They both understand that women need more than a job to experience freedom, they also need social and health services to help them achieve freedom in all areas of their lives.
As they continued to talk, a generator turned on creating a loud noise. Subhendu explained that the building next door was an adult movie theatre and the generator turns on when the cinema’s power goes out. He explained that the posters we’d seen on the streets were advertising the films being shown at the cinema.
Despite the events taking place in their backyard, they remain positive. The women who have committed to Freeset are just starting their 4 month vocational training of basic sewing skills. Apart from this, they will to be taught life skills, offered counseling by Tamar (a project of the Freeset Trust), and provided rights awareness training by Justice Ventures International (an international anti-trafficking organization). When the women complete their training, they will move into roles of either sewing, finishing or packing for the fledgling apparel business.
After hearing Subhendu and Priya share their plans for Dhulian, I was in complete admiration for this family who have selflessly chosen the freedom of other women over their own comforts. Dhulian’s red-light area isn’t the easiest place to live, yet they have made it their home despite the hardships that surround them. Their courage will inspire others around them to seek freedom.