In colonial India, subedars tax collectors went from village to village, with soldiers, often demanding more than taxes. A subedar commands Sonbai, a beautiful and confidant women whose husband is away in the city, to sleep with him. She slaps him and flees for safety to a spice factory where women grind chillies into fine powder. The aged factory guard, Abu Mian, locks the door behind her, refusing to open it to the soldiers, to the cowardly village men led by the mayor, and to the subedar himself. The town's teacher, who follows Gandhi, and a few women, led by the mayor's wife, protest ineffectually against this village-approved rape. The stage is set for a final confrontation. Circa British rule in India, a subhedar, along with a regiment of soldiers, is sent to collect taxes due from a small town. When the lusty Subhedar feasts his eyes on a young married woman named Sonbai, he wants to have his way with her, but she humiliates him, runs and takes shelter in the enclosed compound of a pepper factory, chased by soldiers. The elderly, but brave, Chowkidar Abu, closes the reinforced door to the factory, and refuses to let the soldiers in. This angers the Subhedar, and he asks the town Mukhiya, to get Sonbai to him, or else he will destroy his town. The terrified Mukhiya and the rest of the townspeople decide to turn over Sonbai to the Subhedar, so that he can leave them in one piece, on the condition that they do not molest any more women. The Subhedhar is angered at this show of defiance, and refuses to agree to any conditions. The villagers and the Mukhiya must now decide whether to hand over Sonhai to him, or let him get her and destroy their village, and molest their wives, daughters, and sisters.