Set in the picturesque village of Bhuira, the movie is nothing short of a testimony to the stout-heartedness and untainted vitality of a group of women who built a sustainable business out of making jam. Cradled in the lap of pristine mountains and the bountiful fruit orchards, Bhuira is a quaint village in Sirmour, Rajgadh district of Himachal Pradesh, and is now home to the factory that probably produces India’s finest naturally made jams and marmalades sold under the label of Bhuira Jams.
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The inception of Bhuira Jams can be traced back to the time when its founder, Linnet Mushran, happened to fall in love with the sheer beauty of the hills when she was visiting her relative in 1991. She chanced upon the succulent apples found in abundance in the area and tried her hand at making apple jelly, which turned out to be really good and caught the fascination of a few local women. It was this chance encounter that actually sowed the seeds for the factory and Linnet calls herself an ‘accidental jam maker’ in good humor.
Bhuira Jams started small with very few women from the village and gradually grew in size, membership, and capacity. Today it has expanded to two factories with a total production capacity of 100 metric tonnes and almost all women of the village contributing to its labor force. Needless to say, it wasn’t a joyride but an extremely trying journey laden with manifold challenges. However, the sheer grit and unflinching dedication of the village women inspired Linnet Mushran to tackle all adversities head-on.
The panoramic shots of the hills and orchards in their raw beauty, the dusty unpaved roads, the up-close peek into the banality of pastoral life, and the candid first-person narratives of the women; all add up to elevate the movie into a tangible experience. Moreover, the movie has arguably done a remarkable job of pointing at several important social, economic, cultural, and geographical issues through its crude portrayal of life as is in the village.
The themes touched upon by the movie can be discussed as follows:
The Issue of Regional disparities
At the very beginning, the movie draws our attention to the poor state of roads and infrastructure in the village and in doing so calls into question the government’s general neglect of rural India and particular inattention towards the hilly regions. It holds a mirror to the vast disparities that exist between the urban and the rural, the plains and the hills, the haves and the have nots.
The Issue of Livelihood
Another important theme that the movie discernibly highlights is the issue of livelihood. The village faces a major scarcity in terms of the availability of livelihood opportunities. Bhuira is by and large an agricultural village with most men in the village working as small or marginal farmers. The women used to help the men in the farms and orchards but often without any pay. Before the factory was set up, there was absolutely no opportunity of employment for women, and a lot of women who were widowed or abandoned experienced starvation as they had no means of livelihood. As a result, these women were pushed into destitution and could only beg or borrow to feed themselves and their children.
The Gender Equation
Through the several personal accounts and narratives rendered in the movie, it is clear without a doubt that the village community is male-dominated and highly patriarchal. The several instances of the men remarrying or abandoning their wives and children and even perpetrating domestic violence bear witness 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 us an idea about the frequency of such occurrences and also how seemingly acceptable they are. Several women candidly express how the men in the village get drunk and beat their wives and their nonchalance speaks volumes about their rueful resignation even as one realizes how commonplace it is.
The Caste Question
Linnet Mushran very candidly informs about her hands-on tryst with the caste system in the village. We learn from her that the general assumption among the villagers is that the factory only hires lower caste women. The higher number of lower caste women on the payroll is only because they were the neediest and hence were the first to apply for the job. On the other hand, the upper caste women were hesitant to work initially, probably because of familial and social norms, but warmed up to the opportunity when necessity arose. Now there are quite a few upper caste women working in the factory. Besides Linnet is very clear about not allowing any caste barriers and prejudices to enter the factory premises within which everyone is treated equally.
A Case for Women Empowerment
Perhaps the most noteworthy subject to be considered is how tremendously impactful Bhuira Jams has been in the lives of the women working in the factory. Needless to say, it has pulled out several women and their children from destitution and utter starvation and given them hope for a better future. Women, who used to only engage in housework or help the men on the farm for no pay, were now earning up to Rs.100-120 a day. These village women who had probably never stepped outside their own village were now able to confidently talk to strangers over the phone and place large orders for supplies. Ramkali and Sarita are outstanding examples of how Bhuira Jams pushed women to explore and harness their true potential. Linnet has not only educated them well enough to run the Jam business but has also given them the best learning possible, one of self-reliance. Today we see that this group of presumably illiterate village women are financially independent and are also helping the needy. They have also taught themselves to save and invest money for future exigencies by means of bank savings accounts, post office accounts, and even an internal fund amongst themselves. Truly the enterprise has been empowering and enabling women to fight their own battles with conviction.
Implications for Progress of the village
With the women working in the factory and receiving regular salaries, the shopkeepers became keener on letting them buy groceries and household supplies because of the assurance that they will receive payment. Thus, the factory caused a ripple effect by not only providing livelihood to the poor women but also enhancing the livelihood of small shopkeepers and other businesses.
Another phenomenal implication of the factory providing employment for women was the marked increase in the number of children attending school and their overall attendance. The mothers ensuring that the children are fed and well taken care of and their eagerness to educate them contributed immensely to the school enrolment and attendance.
It is commendable to see how determination and hard work can lead to such fruitful results even in the face of extreme adversity and misery. Bhuira Jams as a collective has been the subject of many a taunt and ill will from the local men, upper-caste gentry as well as the ruling elite of the region. However, time and again, the women of Bhuira Jams, united under the able leadership of Linnet Mushran, have exemplified character, resilience, and tenacity only to emerge as a legitimate symbol of girl power.
The Director of the movie, Shalini Harshwal, has very gracefully captured the finer nuances of the dynamics at play at Bhuira Jams, both as a business and as a family. All in all, it is a delightful movie that leaves the viewers with a grateful smile and a deep sense of admiration for the women of the village.
PhD Scholar, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health,
Jawaharlal Nehru University,