Never say die: Shillong's domestic help turned activist to fight Meghalaya elections 

An activist, who worked as domestic help, is now gearing up to fighting for others in the upcoming polls. Prasanta Mazumdar documents her journey

Published: 04th December 2022 09:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th December 2022 09:08 AM   |  A+A-

Wanpynhun Kharsyntiew will contest from the East Shillong seat and will be up against sitting MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh

Wanpynhun Kharsyntiew will contest from the East Shillong seat and will be up against sitting MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh

Express News Service

MEGHALAYA: Anpynhun Kharsyntiew had a well-to-do past but she fell on bad times and became a domestic help to make ends meet. Over a decade later, this feisty social activist is now gearing up to take on the might of a former minister in the upcoming Meghalaya elections.

Born into a middle-class family in Shillong, life was hunky-dory for Wanpynhun. Her father was a government servant while her mother ran a small shop. However, post-marriage, especially after the birth of her two children, she struggled to run her family. Financial difficulties turned her into a domestic help.

She has been a social activist at her locality level from the time she was aged 16 or 17 years. While working as a domestic help from 2003-11, she associated herself with a local organisation of domestic workers and learnt firsthand how they were exploited. In due course, she joined the National Domestic Workers’ Movement, an NGO, and it gave her a platform to fight for their rights at a greater level. As its representative, she attended various conferences of domestic workers in India and abroad.

Reminiscing the years of struggle, she said she was compelled to work as a part-time domestic help to earn for the family and feed her children.  “I desperately needed a job to run my family but I didn’t find any. There was a lack of opportunities and that was when I decided to work as a domestic worker. However, it is no mean job. While working at the houses of people, I associated myself with the National Domestic Workers’ Movement. I can proudly say it has shaped my personality,” Wanpynhun, a graduate, said.

“We expect our employers to pay us on time and respect us. My employers respected me and paid me on time. I have nothing against them. But I don’t think my education gave me a sense of security at my workplace,” the 42-year-old said.

She said among issues facing domestic workers is the lack of social security. She said just a week after delivery, she had to resume work. This means there is governance, which discriminates against women. People who work in the organised sector are entitled to at least three months maternity leave, she said.
“The facilities in government hospitals were not up to date. So, I wanted to work on this issue as well,” she said, adding, “We need an education policy, a health policy, an employment policy which touches people at the grassroots level.”

During the initial days of her life in the NGO, she worked as a group leader in her community. She understood that she needed specialisation for giving support to workers suffering from trauma. After she had undergone a special course and enhanced her skills, she got an opportunity to work as a full-time staff member. It gave her exposure to other programmes – right to information, right to food and minimum wage for labourers, apart from representation in other parts of India and abroad.

She also worked on women's empowerment in her matrilineal state. She said women have major roles to play, for they can create meaningful change in society. She said during social activism, she was fortunate to meet fellow activist Angela Rangad, and they worked together on many social issues.

Meghalaya has three regions – Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills – and English is largely the language of communication when people of different tribes meet. When the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched in the state, Wanpynhun got an opportunity to work with the school dropouts. She can fluently speak English.

“I basically worked as a motivator and visited the houses of the dropouts to try and bring them back to school. Many of them returned to their school after undergoing a special training that we imparted,” she said.

These days, she is very busy as the state braces for Assembly elections, expected in February next year. She will contest from the East Shillong seat and will be up against sitting MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh, who is a former minister. She took the plunge into politics as she believes social work is not enough to serve people who are struggling and not able to enjoy the benefits of schemes meant for them.  

She said her means are small and she is relying mostly on door-to-door campaigns. Her campaign is crowd-funded. “I don’t agree you need a lot of money to contest and win an election. I believe people are wise enough now-a-days. They have a mobile phone and they get every update – who is doing what, how the state is performing. They understand the issues and situations,” the activist said.  “I must say that today almost everything is getting commercialised, from health to education and this has created a lack of equal opportunities for the masses. It is important that we stress on policies which will give equal opportunities and inclusive development,” Wanpynhun added.


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