At age eight, Lakshmi left her village amidst the lush Sunderbans and came to the bustling city of Delhi to begin her new life, as a full-time domestic worker.
Though there are an estimated 4.2 million -50 million domestic workers in India who provide essential services in homes and for families; they are not recognized or protected as actual workers. “Crossing the River of Life” is a feature-length documentary that explores the daily difficulties these domestic workers face, the unspoken dangers that threaten their lives and what can be done to improve their situations.
The film explores these issues through the personal stories of three different women: Lakshmi, Rita and Bibyani.
Having been a domestic worker for more than a decade now, Lakshmi's segment showcases the daily reality of the majority of domestic workers in India. Without laws to regulate the domestic work sector, Lakshmi has to work long hours without breaks in multiple houses, deal with mercurial employers and chase after her inconsistent wages. Even though she is plagued by personal problems, Lakshmi yearns for a better future for her younger son.
Rita, another domestic worker, was brought to the city by an agency. The agency decides who she works for and how long. She can't go against their demands because they hold all the wages she's earned so far. Without any laws on her side, Rita is at the mercy of the agency's whims. Her story introduces a much bigger and darker problem in India- human trafficking.
The third woman, Bibiyan, expands on the subject of human trafficking. A trafficked domestic worker, she now works for an NGO, educating and even helping other women who have been enslaved by human trafficking. She showcases the road to empowerment that awaits the domestic workers if they are given enough support and care.
Alongside these three stories, advocates and activists from various Indian NGOs explain the broader context and answer the issues affecting Indian domestic workers; Why do so many women leave the safety of their villages? What is happening with the laws for domestic workers? What can be done about human trafficking? What can be done to protect and empower this overlooked workforce?
The film ends with a reminder that a lot more needs to be done to protect and help India's domestic workers.
"What's the point?"
A question that haunted me at every step while making my documentary "Crossing the River." When things went wrong during filming, and quite a few things went wrong, the question replayed in my thoughts like a bad song. And it was a question that Lokhi, the domestic worker who inspired me to make the documentary, asked me.
What's the point?
Though we had our doubts about the project, we both worked to make the documentary. I stayed behind the camera while Lokhi delved deep into her past, her current life situation and her dreams for the future.
It was an eye-opening experience for both of us.
A lot happened behind the scenes, and not all of it got captured on camera for the documentary. So I recorded it in a book.
This book takes readers on a journey as I make a documentary and more importantly, make a friend.