Set in the picturesque village of Bhuira, the film is nothing short of a testament to the bravery and unsullied vitality of a group of women who have built a sustainable business out of jam making. Nestled in the lap of pristine mountains and lush orchards, Bhuira is a picturesque village in Sirmour, Rajgadh district of Himachal Pradesh and is now home to the factory that produces probably India’s finest naturally made jams and marmalades, sold under the Bhuira Jams label.
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The beginnings of Bhuira Jams can be traced back to when its founder, Linnet Mushran, accidentally fell in love with the sheer beauty of the hills while visiting her relatives in 1991. She chanced upon the juicy apples that could be found in abundance in the area and tried her hand at making apple jelly, which turned out to be really good and ignited the fascination of some local women. It was that chance encounter that actually planted the seed for the factory, and Linnet calls herself one “accidental jam maker” in a good mood.
Bhuira Jams started small with very few village women and gradually grew in size, membership and capacity. Today it has grown to two factories with a total production capacity of 100 tons, and almost all the women in the village contribute to its labor force. Of course it wasn’t a jaunt, but an extremely strenuous journey full of diverse challenges. However, the sheer determination and unwavering dedication of the village women inspired Linnet Mushran to face adversity head-on.
The panoramic shots of the hills and orchards in their rugged beauty, the dusty dirt roads, the close-up glimpses of the banality of pastoral life, and the women’s candid first-person narratives; all add up to make the film a tangible experience. In addition, the film arguably did a remarkable job of pointing out several important social, economic, cultural, and geographic issues through its crude depiction of village life.
The issues raised in the film can be discussed as follows:
The problem of regional differences
Right from the start, the film draws attention to the poor condition of roads and infrastructure in the village, thereby questioning the government’s general neglect of rural India and the particular lack of attention it pays to the hilly regions. It is a reflection of the vast differences that exist between town and country, plain and hill, rich and rich.
The issue of livelihood
Another important issue that the film clearly emphasizes is the question of livelihood. The village faces a severe lack of livelihood opportunities. Bhuira is broadly an agricultural village with most of the men in the village working as small or marginal farmers. Women used to help men on farms and orchards, but often without pay. Before the factory was founded, there were absolutely no employment opportunities for women and many widowed or abandoned women went hungry because they had no means of earning a living. As a result, these women were reduced to misery and could only beg or borrow money to support themselves and their children.
The Gender Equality
Through the various personal reports and stories that are reproduced in the film, it becomes clear without a doubt that the village community is male-dominated and strongly patriarchal. The numerous cases of men remarrying or leaving their wives and children, and even engaging in domestic violence, testify to the fact that women have little or no power in the community. The matter-of-fact way in which the women talk about it gives an idea of how often such incidents occur and also how seemingly acceptable they are. Several women are open about how the men in the village get drunk and beat their wives, and their nonchalance speaks volumes about their rueful resignation, even if you realize how commonplace it is.
The caste question
Linnet Mushran is very open about her hands-on encounter with the caste system in the village. We learn from her that the general assumption among the villagers is that the factory only hires women from lower castes. The higher number of women from lower castes on the payroll is only because they were the neediest and therefore the first to apply for the job. Upper caste women, on the other hand, were initially reluctant to work, probably due to family and social norms, but were warmed to the opportunity when the need arose. Now quite a few upper caste women work in the factory. Also, Linnet is very clear about not allowing caste barriers and prejudice on the factory campus where everyone is treated equally.
A case for women’s empowerment
Perhaps the most notable issue to consider is the tremendous impact Bhuira Jams has had on the lives of the women who work at the factory. Needless to say, it has lifted several women and their children from misery and utter starvation and given them hope for a better future. Women who used to only do housework or help men on the farm without pay now earned up to 100-120 rupees a day. These village women, who had probably never left their own village, could now confidently telephone strangers and place large orders for supplies. Ramkali and Sarita are excellent examples of how Bhuira Jams has empowered women to discover and realize their true potential. Linnet not only trained them well enough to run the Jam business, but also gave them the best learning possible, which is self-confidence. Today we see that this group of presumably illiterate village women is financially independent and also works for the needy. They have also taught themselves how to save and invest money for future needs, using bank savings accounts, postal accounts, and even an internal fund among themselves. The company has truly empowered and empowered women to fight their own struggles with conviction.
Effects on village progress
As the women worked in the factory and received regular salaries, the shopkeepers let them buy more and more groceries and household goods, confident that they would be paid. Thus the factory created a ripple effect by not only providing livelihoods for poor women but also improving the livelihoods of small shopkeepers and other businesses.
Another phenomenal consequence of the factory’s employment of women was the marked increase in the number of children attending school and their overall attendance. The mothers who ensured that the children were well fed and cared for and their zeal in raising them contributed immensely to school enrollment and school attendance.
It is commendable to see how determination and hard work can produce such fruitful results even in the face of extreme adversity and misery. Bhuira Jams as a collective has been the subject of much taunting and ill will from local men, upper caste nobility as well as the region’s ruling elite. Time and time again, the women of Bhuira Jams, united under the capable leadership of Linnet Mushran, have demonstrated character, resilience and tenacity only to emerge as a legitimate symbol of girl power.
The film’s director, Shalini Harshwal, has gracefully captured the finer nuances of the dynamic at Bhuira Jams, both as a company and as a family. All in all, it’s a delightful film that leaves viewers with grateful smiles and a deep admiration for the village women.
PhD Scholar, Center for Social Medicine and Community Health,
Jawaharlal Nehru University,