"What all of us women need is to become strong and stand on our own feet," says Kamala, a 26-year-old Indian mother trapped in a difficult marriage that she entered at age 13 and does not plan to leave.

She is one of two subjects of "Kamala and Raji," a documentary airing on "P.O.V." ("Point of View") Tuesday at 10 on 22/67 and 26.

Shot in 1983, but completed only this year with the help of a "P.O.V." grant, "Kamala and Raji" tells the story of how two poor Indian women -- Kamala and Raji -- have changed their lives through their involvement with a grassroots women's labor union, the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), in the city of Ahmedabad in western India.

Though American women may not face the same social pressures as Kamala, "{Kamala and Raji's} problems are very basic ... close to the heart, and in that way they will resonate," said Cheryl Groff of Baltimore, who co-directed the film with Michael Camerini of New York and Shireen Huq of Bangladesh.

Kamala's concerns -- of wishing to preserve her marriage for the sake of her three children and of being economically dependent on her husband -- are issues that many American women will recognize from their own experiences, Groff believes.

Like her mother, Kamala had been a piece-worker making bidis (cigarettes) in Ahmedabad when she first heard of SEWA, which was founded in 1972. Despite her husband's objections, she joined the union, and then quit her job to work as a salaried organizer for the union.

There she met other women like herself, and was emboldened to take greater control of her life. She turned her attention away from trying to influence her husband, who gambled and drank, and focused on the sense of accomplishment she gained from her new job.

As a poor Indian woman, Kamala had been doubly disempowered, first by her poverty and then by her gender in a society with a complex tradition of female subjugation.

Her hopes for her own daughter were a measure of the distance she had traveled. Pulled out of school at 10 to take care of her younger siblings, Kamala was determined to educate her daughter (she also has two sons), and marry her off only when she was done studying, at 25 or 26.

Raji, the other protagonist of the film, was a vegetable vendor who first came into contact with SEWA over her struggle to sell vegetables in a local market. There, police often arrested vegetable vendors for squatting in the market without authorization. SEWA helped Raji and other vendors win the right to sell, and Raji became a representative of women vegetable vendors on the SEWA executive committee.

Kamala and Raji are strikingly self-conscious as they analyze their position as poor Indian women in their male-dominated society, their discomfort with their lot, and the compromises they have fashioned to gain a measure of self-determination amid the demands placed by family, children and society.

Their sentiments may not be uncommon among middle-class Indian women, but to hear them so powerfully articulated by poor women whose lives, though influenced by city ways, are still rooted in traditional norms, is riveting.

"{Indian} Society has always taught a woman to respect her husband," says Kamala. "She must live by his rules and must not tell the world about her home. Even if he beats her or burns her, she can burn and die, but can't talk about it or humiliate him."

Groff and Camerini, who have tried to portray this complex social situation through the lives of Kamala and Raji, called their work the "cinema of translation." They said its aim was to translate the experiences of people in one culture to those in another.

"Everything we learn about them {Kamala and Raji}, Ahmedabad and SEWA we learn from them in their words," Groff said. "This enables our audiences to see, hear and feel {their world} more clearly. Through that process, we come to see what we as human beings, or in this case as women, ... have in common. We see ourselves in them."

Camerini, the producer, has made 11 films in India. His first was a film on the Hindu pilgrimage city of Banaras, which he made as a bachelor's thesis project for the University of Wisconsin. Camerini was also senior producer for the PBS series "Local Heroes, Global Change," and shot two of its installments.

"An outsider has to be very careful about being presumptuous," he said. "But an outsider has something to contribute. A film by an Indian woman {on the subject} would bring to it something. But I bring something different."

As an outsider, Camerini said, he approached the subject "with sensitivity to a potential {non-Indian} audience, uncolored by the need to assert a certain truth {that an insider might have} ... It's not my job to advocate, but to translate."

Groff and Camerini have collaborated on another film set in a north Indian village, "Dadi's Family," shown on PBS' "Odyssey" series in December 1981.

Groff lived in India until she was 12, grew up speaking Hindi, and "always wanted to return to India and get to know it as an adult."

She researched SEWA during a pre-production trip in which she and Shireen Huq attended SEWA meetings, sat in the vegetable markets, and went to the homes and neighborhoods of women involved in the grassroots movement to get to know them and find out what they thought of it.

Groff said the filmmakers selected Kamala and Raji because their experiences were representative of those of other SEWA members and because they felt the two would be able to handle the presence of the camera.

The film's narrative is made up entirely of the words of Kamala and Raji (and other women). Some parts are translated into English through voice-overs, while others are subtitled, giving Gujrati and Hindi speakers a richly textured treat.

Several Indians were involved in interviewing and filming women in five Indian languages and dialects, not all of which are heard on tape.

Camerini cautioned that "Kamala and Raji" does not portray all Indian women, any more than any one film could describe all European women. It is only one look at a very "complex, multi-layered" country, he said.

Camerini hopes to return to India to see Kamala and Raji later this year. Both women remain active in the SEWA movement. Raji still sits on the executive committee, and Kamala has risen up the ranks and has traveled around India as a public speaker for SEWA.