Note: This post, is part II of ‘In the land of Kalam’, a month-long series, showcasing ‘sustainable characters of India’s villages.’ Resting on the foundations of economic, social, cultural and spiritual amalgamation of life, these villages, have for centuries, inspired visionary Indian leaders who have sought to turn them into potential powerhouse centers. It is this belief, which I too share, that upliftment of rural communities would be critical in cementing India’s success in achieving the ‘Sustainable Development Goals 2030’, as adopted by the charter of nations at the UN in 2015. And with this belief, I bring to you these stories of an ‘incredible India!’
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world,” remarked Hillary Clinton once. No where in the world is perhaps, this visible as much as it is in India. The recent statistics by National Family Health Survey (NFHS) present a grim picture. A decade back, about 43% of women were found to be an engaged workforce, whereas, in 2015-2016, this number declined to 31%, as compared to a 98% of the male workforce. Culture, lack of resources and labour market seem to be denting the will of women to get into India’s employed workforce, despite various estimates by UN that economic impact of achieving gender equality in India’s workforce could be $700 billion of added GDP by 2025.
Thankfully, rural India seems to be a beacon of hope in these desperate times, as women organize themselves into self-help groups to generate informal yet alternative forms of businesses overcoming all the obstacles. The modus operandi seems to be: “go together, to go farther.”
In the remote village of Arasanarkulam, in the Tirunelveli district, Dhanalakshmi Ashok, in her early 40s, is paving the way for women like her through an innovative set up. Along with her husband Ashok Kumar and sometimes her daughter (who helps them with all work, technology), she is busy empowering a group of 15 women through her self help group- Gandhi. Together, they create small works of lights that are used for festivities and public celebrations such as weddings, temple functions and political rallies.
“Prior to our self-help group, I used to work alone at small light work shop at Tuticorin. As they say, behind every successful man, there is a woman. It was the woman in my life, who changed everything,” smiles Ashok, looking fondly at Dhanalakshmi. Ashok’s eyes, shine with pride as he narrates how Dhanalakshmi’s entrepreneurial streak changed not only the life of his family, but of the other women in their village as well.
When Srinivasan Services Trust, the social arm of TVS Motor Company, approached Dhanalakshmi to understand how could things get better, they helped her set up a Woman’s Self Help group, that could assist Ashok in creation of these light works. While Ashok helped the women understand the process of creation end to end, Dhanalakshmi took the much complex mantle of marketing the services of their group through word of mouth, thus ensuring larger orders for her team, catering to Tamil Nadu politicians and celebrities.
Creativity with precision
Dhanalakshmi explains the process to me, “Each light work takes anywhere from a day to week. We first brainstorm on the ideas, the shape and structure of these lights. My daughter then helps us create an outline on paper. Later my husband lays the ground work with bamboo sourced from Madurai. Once, this whole process is finished, we began the second phase of our work, where women begin weaving of the bulbs, sourced from Chennai.”
While each structure secures Rs. 600 inside the village and Rs.6000, when exported outside the village, Dhanalakshmi and her team earn Rs. 50,000 per month. Though the demand is season based, Dhanalakshmi exports her works to neighboring state of Kerala, with Mumbai and Kolkata being second and third on the list. “These two cities are our biggest markets, thanks to the use of lightworks during Ganesha festival and Durga Puja”, Dhanalakshmi informs me.
This one unorganized sector, definitely seems to have benefited from the government’s ‘Make in India’s’ program as the group seems to be creating light works of bulbs sourced locally from Madurai, instead of Chinese bulbs.