Note: This post, is last 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!’
The village of Eruvadi looks like, just any other village. It is far from the noisy streets of Mumbai, political hoardings of Chennai’s ruling class or the polluted skies and hate spewing elite of Delhi. I am traversing remote interiors of India and wonder, why am I thinking about cities? Perhaps, it’s the heat or may be that’s the only reference framework, I have, given that I am a city buffoon. “It’s just another village”, I murmur through my breathe.
It isn’t, and how! I am to find soon!
I am in Eruvadi, a village of peace, a village of social harmony and perhaps an imagery of ‘real India.’ It is the village of Mohammad Peer Banu, the leader of Bismi, one of women’s self help group, supported by Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social arm of TVS Motor Company, across 5000+ villages of India.
When I first enter Peer Banu’s home, she stands at the door welcoming me. Her smile is gently warm, as opposed to the cool breeze, the green plastered of her home provides. Peer Banu, looks in her early fifties and peers through her glasses, while offering apologies to the ‘clothey mess’, her home, currently looks like. 14 women, all a part of her self-help group, have gathered to meet their daily quota of tailored garments.
So the story goes- In the year, 2010, SST and Peer Banu, came together to set up a self-sustaining women’s self help group. Together, their aim was to make the women of the village to gain control of their village and homes.
Not just financial independence:
Peer Banu explains, “the idea was to promote the concept of ‘financial independence’ through various income generation activities that could be indulged in from the comfort of our homes and without compromising on domestic duties.” Peer Banu is not alone. There are Nasira and Syed Ali Fatima, who concur. “We don’t want to become the sole bread earners. This group, although, provides us a sense of financial security, but beyond that, it has given us a sense of affinity and helps maintain equilibrium and peace in the village.”
Time stands testimony to their claim. Eight years back, when the women came together, they huddled, in an experiment to claim their individual voices with 8-9 sewing machines. Over the years, the ladies have formed a loving bond, one which extends beyond their own families. Together, they take decisions that affect the women of the villages- whether it is marriage, education or dowry (which they can now oppose) However, the most promising aspect that comes out through the narration of their own life stories- is the significant communal harmony of the community. Women come together to clean the mosques and temples- irrespective of their religions and personal beliefs, every week.
Making of an ISRO scientist and a CRPF officer:
For long, women self-help groups have been seen as and credited for enabling women with financial independence. But ‘Bismi’, seems to be a SHG with a difference. Peer Banu is a case in point. More than her own success, she feels ‘Bismi’ is her new lease of life. It has been a blessing, which she couldn’t have imagined, she insists. “I am so grateful to Bismi for the cheer it has brought to my life. When I started Bismi, my husband supported me in the hopes of my work providing a supplementary income. We couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams of how it would benefit my two kids- who went on to become an ISRO scientist and a CRPF officer!”, exclaims Peer Banu. Her eyes, gleam with pride and tears.
With SST’s help, Bismi educated the women regarding the art of tailoring and banking related activities. Till today, Bismi has directly or indirectly benefited lives of more than 400 people, allowing women to earn and save anywhere from Rs.8,000- Rs.10,000, at any given point of time. It also helps them enroll their kids in school without any second thought.
Vision for the future:
The women are hopeful for a much better tomorrow. While the ladies claimed that they started the SHG as an experiment, they are now ready to dream bigger and better. Peer Banu bids me farewell shortly thereafter, “Now our dream is to become a local garment brand and sell to people beyond our village!”
Despite the challenges faced by the ladies, there is a sense of hope as I depart. The unit is definitely a success and seems to have given them a renewed spirit and sense of purpose. This women’s self help group is transforming into a community self help group.