Phoolan Devi, 18
Near Patiala, Punjab
Moved from Nalanda, Bihar, post-marriage, with husband
They got married in October, around Dussehra. Phoolan Devi doesn’t remember the date. What she does remember is how excited she was, about leaving for Punjab with husband Mangal. It was a land of riches for migrants from Bihar, she had heard.
Shivering under a towel that she uses as covering in the harsh winter of Nardu village near Rajpura, 25 km from Patiala, Phoolan smiles weakly at how quickly that dream has shattered. Mangal alternates as a farm and brick kiln labourer, depending on the season, and money is too scant for her to afford woollens. Within two days of reaching Punjab, she had joined him, both in the kilns and fields for work.
“My husband borrowed money for the wedding and has to pay off the debt,” Phoolan shrugs. “If we both work for 15 days, we get around Rs 1,500. We can barely afford two meals a day.” Picking weeds from a field, she adds, “I hope to make Rs 200 to buy a shawl.”
However, lack of money is not what saddens her. It’s the fact that even 1,350 km away from her village Uprawal in Nalanda, she hasn’t escaped her old life. Her father works as a brick moulder back home.
Ask about her dreams, and she shakes her head. “Gareeb ke kya sapne honge (What dreams will a poor person have)?” However, that image of Punjab sticks. “Back home I would hear Punjab is a land of plenty. I hope when we have children, they not only get plenty to eat but also an opportunity to study, to live and not just survive.”
At the end of the day, she collects firewood before returning to the one-room quarters allotted to brick kiln labourers — holding a basic cot, a clothesline and an earthen stove. Often, as she does the cooking and washing, Phoolan says, “I miss home so much, I cry. Although my husband has a big family here, I miss my four sisters, brother and parents.”
Her refuge is a 4X2 ft steel trunk, covered with a plastic and tucked in a corner, holding almost all the things her parents gave her before she left for her in-laws’ home:
They gave her about 32 saris. All but five-six of them went as gifts to her husband’s relatives. Phoolan keeps the saris neatly stacked in the trunk. Right at the top is her favourite — a bright red sari with golden sequins and embroidery that she wore for her wedding. Next to it are the silver anklets she also wore that day. She keeps them safely wrapped in a plastic pouch.
The Rs 10 notes, amounting to Rs 120, lie rolled up with a rubber band. Her relatives and friends gave her the notes as part of their blessing at her wedding. Money is short, but she won’t spend this.
There are 10 packets of bindis in different sizes, most of them plain and red but a few decorated with sequins and stones.
Lipstick, kohl, sindoor
With no other space inside the room, these too lie inside the trunk. She applies the make-up with the help of a small mirror, also kept inside the trunk.
The couple has two aluminum vessels to make dal and rice, two bowl-shaped plates, a tava, four stainless steel glasses, a red plastic jug, and a few spoons.
A bucket and a soap also lie in the room, as the two bathrooms at the kiln are shared by all labourers.