Meet Lalo Mahali, a tea worker from the Kachini Estate in West Bengal, India who also works as a health educator under the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI). When she was 16-years-old, Lalo Mahali’s mother – who worked on the same estate – retired and Lalo took over her role. A few months later, Lalo met a fellow tea estate worker on the same plantation, fell in love, and ran away with him. Unfortunately, later in the relationship he began drinking frequently and abusing Lalo. He sexually assaulted her, and she was forced to marry him due to societal pressure and threats from her family members. When she was 17, she became pregnant but decided she could not continue the pregnancy in her current abusive relationship and had an abortion. When Lalo’s husband and his family discovered this, they emotionally abused her for many years.
Unable to leave her abusive relationship, at the age of 33 Lalo had four daughters and became pregnant again because her husband wanted a son. However, she reported feeling physically and mentally unstable. At the time, Lalo’s 16-year-old daughter was being taught adolescent health lessons in school by FPAI and decided to contact an FPAI counselor to discuss her mother’s health condition and the different types of contraceptives available. She brought Lalo to the FPAI clinic in Kalchini for counseling; since her pregnancy was high-risk and was putting her health in jeopardy, Lalo decided to get a safe abortion at the nearest government hospital. With FPAI’s continued medical and legal counseling, Lalo then decided to undergo sterilization to secure a life free from the risk of unintended pregnancies. She also received counseling by FPAI on HIV prevention, family planning, abortion services, financial literarcy and more. Afterwards, she reported feeling much more confident and wanted to help other women become healthier and happier, stating: “Women in the tea gardens face a lot of challenges. If they get help, I will be thankful to the people who help us.”
To fulfill her wish to help other women, FPAI introduced Lalo to the Mother’s Club, which convenes women tea garden workers to discuss different health issues such as contraception, personal hygiene, sexual harassment and/or abuse, domestic violence, and more. Through these conversations, the women forge strong bonds and rely on each other for emotional support, learning, and advice. As a member of the club, Lalo refers health issues she sees on the Kalchani estate to the FPAI center. To date, she has helped to address 50 cases of gender-based violence. The more women she helped, the more people began to identify her as a reliable health information provider and confidant. Lalo herself said: “I gained recognition and became the Upa Pradhaan [deputy to the Panchayat, or the decision maker in the village] of the Panchayat.” Lalo now leads 10 mother’s clubs, totaling more than 100 women. In her mind, “women can do anything” if they are given the chance. Lalo believes that “Society has gone ahead. We women are no less than anyone, if we have self confidence, we can get anywhere.”
“Women in the tea gardens face a lot of challenges. If they get help, I will be thankful to the people who help us.”