At age eight, Lakshmi had to leave her tribal village. From the lush Sunderbans, her father brought her 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. Without the protection of the law, they face numerous hardships alone and in silence. “Crossing the River of Life” is a feature-length documentary that shatters this silence by exposing the daily difficulties these domestic workers face, the criminal dangers that threaten their lives, and what needs to be done to improve their situations.
The film explores these topics 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 who have no laws to fear, and chase after her inconsistent wages. These work issues magnify the personal problems that she is already plagued by. With no other choice, Lakshmi struggles because she yearns to create a better future for her son.
Rita, another domestic worker, was brought to the city by an agency. The agency decides who she works for and how long she works for that household. She can’t go against their demands because they hold all the wages she’s earned so far. Without any laws on her side, and with no help to escape her circumstances, Rita is at the mercy of the agency’s demands. Her story introduces a much darker element of Indian society- human trafficking.
The third woman featured in this documentary, Bibiyan, expands on the subject of human trafficking. As a previously trafficked domestic worker, Bibiyan now works for an NGO, educating and even helping other women who have been kidnapped, tricked, and enslaved into human trafficking. Her story and her actions showcase how domestic workers can gain empowerment if they are given enough support and care.
Alongside these three personal stories, the film questions advocates, experts and activists from various Indian NGOs to explain 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, calling for more to be done to protect and help India’s domestic workers.