Parmila Singh, the Benarasi Banglewali in Charminar


Parmila Singh, the only woman street vendor in Charminar

We were recently at Hyderabad’s iconic Charminar, thrilled to be at the timeless market which caters to everything a woman’s heart desires – from sequined sarees to strings of pearls to embroidered purses to glittering toe-rings and colourful dupattas and of course the beautiful Hyderabadi bangles. A woman stood in a corner with a basketful of bangles and after we had bought some lac and beaded bangles from her I asked if I could take a picture. She agreed with a laugh and asked, “Is it because you want to show your friends that even a woman does business in this market?”

At first I did not understand the importance of her words and walked away. Then it dawned that indeed she was the only woman, literally the sole woman doing business on the streets of that huge market. There were one or two women beggars but no other woman street vendor. So I went back to her under the pretense of buying some more bangles.

“You are right,” I said, “There is no other woman selling things here.”

A man standing behind her answered before she could, “Our women work inside the shops… not out on the streets.” Both of us ignored him.

She lowered the dupatta that masked her face and said, “Iss market mein saara saamaan auraton ka hai, par bechnewale sab mard hain. Main akeli aurat hoon business karnewali. This market is meant for women but the sellers are all men. I am the only woman doing business here.” Indeed every other vendor in sight, selling everything from pearls to purses, was a man.

I asked what her name was.

“Parmila Singh,” she replied with a smile, “we are from Benaras, but now Hyderabad is home.”

Parmila told me that her husband used to work in a dairy that closed down during the Covid-19 lockdown and never reopened. At first he tried to sell bangles but the other sellers in the market objected – perhaps they did not want a newcomer to increase the competition or perhaps they did not want an outsider from U.P – she did not give the details. When she decided to come to the market instead of him, initially she too faced the same problems. She was taunted and not allowed to set down her basket. Fortunately, an advocate and social worker called Shashi Didi stood by and supported her. After much negotiations, she is now allowed to sell bangles twice a day – a few hours in the morning and then again in the evening. She has two children – one ten year old, another five. Her husband recently found some work, selling cut-piece cloths, in another part of the town. As we parted she flashed her smile and said, “Please tell all your friends who come to Charminar to buy bangles from me.”

“I will,” I promised.


Iconic Charminar, a Place of Timeless Beauty
  • Paromita Goswami