‘Brown Girl Working’ (BGW) is an Instagram love letter to the strength and ambition of brown working women. Featuring profiles of doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, shopkeepers, athletes, and more, the page shares their struggles and achievements, and offers perspective, support, encouragement and inspiration for desi women across the globe – things that we could all do with a little more of.
With not too much information available on its profile, we got in touch with the creator of the page – Siddhakanksha Mishra, a Mumbai-based freelancer and budding social entrepreneur to learn more about BGW.
“As an Indian woman, I desperately seek role models that I can relate to”, Mishra comments, “so I thought of creating a platform where women and girls from different walks of life could be featured, which would help reinforce their agency and voice within the Indian context.”
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Shanti Devi, 70, India's First Woman Mechanic, She works with her husband Ram Bahadur, 55, who is proud of the title his wife has earned over the years. . "Ours was a poor family. My mother went through tremendous hardships to bring us up. I worked at odd jobs like stitching and making beedis. I managed to save up to get married and move out." . Devi and Bahadur started by operating a tea-stall opposite shop number AW-7 at the depot. They still work on the same spot, but 25 years later it has metamorphosed into a repair shop. Devi says she apprenticed under a mistri who taught her how to change tyres, fix punctures, make minor engine repairs – all for a fee of some food and money, for a month. "One can't learn for free! I had to invest something," she says with a smile. The idea was to generate more income than they were getting from the tea-stall, since both husband and wife had 3-5 children each from their previous marriages to bring up. . Dressed in a purple sari and a matching blouse that she stitched herself, Devi sports comfortable canvas shoes and socks as well as silver anklets. Her head remains covered with the pallu to keep off the heat and dust. You might mistake her for a farmer working in the field as she bends over a tyre instead of a ripe crop, keeping her back straight. She yanks off the tube and slathers powder on it. "It's to keep the tube from getting stuck inside the tyre when it gets hot," she explains, proceeding to find the puncture. Her husband looks on proudly as she instructs him on what to do. "We are like friends," he says. "Between the two of us we managed to make our own house in 50 gaj [a local measure of land] area and settle all our children." . How do the men in the area see her? "It's how you conduct yourself. They are quite happy that I do similar work as them, more so, especially since I have been written about in the press over the years," she says. . This story originally appeared in The Week on March 7, 2016 . Read all about it here: https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/a-pragmatic-mechanic @theweekmag
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Subi, Poetess, Author of Dear Bohemian Man, Former Miss North East, 1st Runner Up, Currently Working as the Agriculture Development Officer for Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar. @subitaba . “It is a privilege to be a government officer and work for the development of the country. . My role is to work towards development of agricultural sector of the rural community and assist them in availing the government schemes and benefits to increase agricultural productivity and to uplift the economy of the grassroot levels of the society.”
Where do these stories come from?
Mishra tells us, “Earlier I used to seek out women to feature, now women themselves come forward and approach me to get featured. Their sheer confidence in self and the fact that they want to put themselves out there is very validating to my work. They aren’t modest anymore about their successes and achievements, boldly fading out the age-old social conditioning that demands them to play low key.”
Although initially created with an intent to engage with the Indian diaspora, BGW soon became inclusive of all brown women around the world. “As culturally they face the same issues as Indian women, I decided to universalise this initiative,” Mishra says.
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Gurpreet, Entrepreneur, Author, Co-founder at @aclassclothing, San Jose. @gurpreetksidhu316 . . I grew up in San Jose, California and went to college, just as I was expected to and graduated with a degree in Business Management. Especially for brown girls, there are a lot of expectations. From the color of your skin to your career and everything in between. You are scrutinized. Growing up, I struggled a lot with my skin color. I was told I was really dark and when the time came for marriage, that's what people were going to look at. The color of my skin. And I believed that. It weighed heavy on me that the color of my skin was far more important than my personality, my character, my compassion and everything else that truly mattered. It took me years to fall in love with the color of my skin and embrace it. My career choice was another aspect of my life that was frowned upon. Typically, Indian parents want their children to go into either of these fields: Medical, Law, or Engineering. And I knew from the start I didn't want to go into any of those fields. From working as a Behavioral Therapist to becoming an Assistant Manager, I'm now in the midst of launching my first novel and run a woman's clothing line with my sister. . I know it took A LOT of courage for me to be where I am today because it wasn't an easy journey, despite how my life on the outside may look. I push myself every day to become a better person. I have a crazy work ethic. I know very well that nothing is going to be handed to me. If I want something, I have to work for it. I want to be the female version of @therock and/or @kevinheart4real . I'm obsessed with becoming phenomenal and no one can stop me. . My debut novel, STORM, is coming out on July 24. Pre-orders begin May 24, which is only a few weeks away! You can check out my website gurpreetkaursidhu.com for more details. You can check out our clothing line, ACLASS, a pay-it-forward brand at aclassclothing.com and see what we're about!
When questioned about featuring women of all classes and castes, Mishra comments that she really wants to, but hasn’t figured out how best to do so. So far, she has approached women through their social media platforms or on streets/ public places, to try and represent brown women from all walks of life.
“But I stick by one rule for my page – I never mention the surnames of the women I feature” she points out. “I don’t want to delve into creating a narrative of a brown woman’s work based on her social identity.
“My larger goal is to make all brown voices heard irrespective of class and caste, through the lens of livelihood and empowerment.”
Apart from empowering girls and women, the page has also successfully reached young boys and men who are inspired by the stories of these women.
“When I started the page, I wanted to also make sure that I represent women from industries that are dominated by men. In doing so, I wanted to normalize the idea that women can literally and actively work in any field as assets validating the notion of equality for men and boys to experience,” she says. “And there are many men who write to me saying that the page inspires them greatly! I’m glad I’m able to feature female role models for men to look up to.”
Mishra hopes to take her initiative forward by launching a Women’s Empowerment website that would help women find jobs, community support, access to crucial resources (like single-women housing, legal advice, therapy, etc.) I’m in the initial stages of chalking out this plan as a possible start up for the future,” she signs off.
Find Brown Girl Working on Instagram here.
Written by Anvitha Satheesh
Featured image source: Brown Girl Working