A domestic help who took to Facebook to expose sadistic employers and shine a torch on her miserable existence, has become a media darling in Kolkata – capital of India’s West Bengal state and the country’s cultural hub where intellectuals love to lionize the underdog. The more Alpana Mondal writes, the more she is written about!
Thanks to relentless coverage, the 29-year-old is a minor celebrity today exactly a year after she began chronicling her life experience on social media.
The school drop-out, impoverished woman’s rise to fame from Choto Mollakhali, a non-descript village in coastal Sunderbans known for its man-eating tigers and mangrove forests, is the stuff film scripts are made of.
At present, Mondal earns her living at an incense factory near the ruling Trinamool Congress Party headquarters in Calcutta.
The Facebook heroine
The Facebook heroine says that the factory’s location is providential as she is a die-hard fan of West Bengal’s feisty woman Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, who belongs to the Trinamool Congress and is a thorn in the flesh of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who she opposes tooth and nail.
“I can lay down my life for Mamata-di”, she told Al Arabiya, referring to the CM as her elder sister in Bengali. “She is a lamp of hope in the dark lives of the oppressed and the suppressed.”
Mondal keys in her stories in Bengali into her mobile phone. She hasn’t looked back after she opened a Facebook account to upload her outpourings which have gone viral.
Besides her own troubled life, she holds forth on social problems and women’s issues with great candor and conviction in the cyberspace.
Life as a teacher
“I was in class four when I stopped going to school. But life is the greatest teacher. My aim is to share the lessons I have learned with as many as possible. I also want the privileged classes to know that the poor of this country live in hell. I hope things will improve when those who are well off realize how unjust our system is”, she says.
Mondal was only 10 years old when her parents found her a job in Calcutta. And her very first employer was such a sadist that she poured boiling oil on the little girl’s hand as punishment for not frying puris (deep fried bread made of wheat flour and served with meat or vegetables) properly.
“In other homes where I had the misfortune to work, I was treated like dirt, or at best a convict with no rights. I often starved as I was given my first meal of the day late in the afternoon. Most households confine maid servants in a small room on the terrace. Physical thrashings are common. As a teenaged girl I had many harrowing experiences which are too shameful to narrate”, she recalls.
Married off at 14
Mondal was only 14 when she was married off to a 30-year-old man who abused her. She ultimately walked out of the marriage holding the hand of her daughter, Susmita, who is now 11.
She wanted to remarry but the second man in her life turned out to be a cheat compelling Mondal to live life single.
“My daughter is usually the first to read what I write. And she is overjoyed that her mother has so many followers on Facebook and is written about in newspapers and websites. I want to give her the best education, so that unlike her mother she can lead a respectable life when she grows up.”