The drive from central Kolkata to Metiabruz, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Kolkata, should be rather quick. Instead, traffic snarls along the busy roads leading through docks along the Hoogly River.
Trucks hauling shipping containers jam the roads, with men hauling goods on carts jostling for space in a mismatched battle for right of way.
The bustling movement kicks up cough-inducing amounts of dust, and coats everything along the roads with a thin dusty layer. The route from central Kolkata demonstrates what a key industrial location this is, with the shipping industry, power stations, and textile manufacturers vying for space.
You would never think that there are hundreds of women in tech in this neighborhood.
Once you enter Metiabruz, the commotion changes but doesn’t become less intense. Roadways are packed with shops selling everything imaginable, and a disproportionately high number of brightly colored kite shops will catch your eye. The air might carry the scent of biriyani or the melodic call to prayer from an area mosque.
The neighborhood is a maze of narrow ways lined with concrete buildings and informal homes next to which open drains and piles of garbage betray the lack of government services. Today, the aesthetics disguise the area’s history; it was once home to Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh (in present day Uttar Pradesh). The wealthy Nawab was exiled to this corner of Kolkata, where he lived a lavish lifestyle and indulged in his love of diverse arts, from poetry, and plays to dance. He is credited with the revival of the classic Indian dance, Kathak.
Today, Kathak lives on in Metiabruz, but not much else would be recognizable. It is a poorly served area of Kolkata, with the majority of residents living in informal housing. The vast majority of the area is Muslim, a community that has been systematically and historically marginalized in India.
Work is not readily available, with daily wage labor being how many families get by. Yet, despite lacking in economic wealth, it is rich in potential.
iMerit’s Metiabruz center was built to encourage and empower this potential. Founded in 2012 by a coalition of individuals from iMerit and the community, our center serves over 200 young women from the neighborhood, providing them stable and empowering employment in a sector that seems out of place in this busy neighborhood. It is the only provider of IT jobs in the area, making it unusual already. The fact that it is targeted at upskilling and employing women makes it all the more noteworthy.
Yet we have seen immense growth among our young women, and change throughout the community. Our employees tell stories of once-skeptical families eventually fully embracing their decision to pursue education and encouraging their other daughters to follow the same path.
Respect for women as wage-earners, as students, as critical parts of the technology future, as dreamers, has grown.
Hundreds of families have a secure source of income that far outstrips the earlier potential for daily earnings in the area.
We will share these stories of our marvelous Metiabruz women in the weeks to come. Keep an eye out and let us know what you think!