Women from Chambal stitch a success story, turn crisis into opportunity

Hindustan Times, Bhopal | By
Dec 15, 2020 01:43 PM IST

The women made a comeback even after their first venture to sell dry mushrooms failed-- due to the lockdown induced by coronavirus---and left them in debt.

A group of 10 women from a backward village in Madhya Pradesh that has the poorest sex and child at birth sex ratios in the Chambal division, have proved their mettle and earned everyone’s respect by not only becoming the sole bread-earners of their families during the economic crisis engendered by coronavirus pandemic but also helped 100 other women earn their livelihoods. It’s their journey from debt-ridden women to becoming owners of a café and stitching centre, which is inspiring all.

Several of these women are the sole bread winners in their families.(HT Photo)
Several of these women are the sole bread winners in their families.(HT Photo)

The ten women of Dhurkuda village of Morena district, where the female sex ratio is 871 for 1,000 men-- which is 60 points lower than the state’s average sex ratio of 931-- and child sex ratio is just 794 girls for 1,000 boys i.e., 124 points lower than the state average of 918, according to census 2011, dreamt in January of becoming entrepreneurs for financially supporting their families.

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According to the women, they took a loan of Rs 1 lakh and started a dry mushroom business. However, they were left in debt of Rs 50,000 due to the Covid-19 lockdown. They faced criticism and embarrassment as their business failed. The women started making masks in April. They invited at least 100 other women from different villages to become a part of their mask-making business.

“They changed their destiny with their hard work and made 83,000 masks from May to November. They earned Rs 8.3 lakh and made Rs 4.3 lakh of profit. Now, these women have started a Didi café and stitching centre at tehsil office in Pahargarh block and some of them emerged as sole bread-earners of their families,” said Dinesh Singh, district project manager of National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) of Morena.

A member of the group Aradhna Dhakad, 40, said, “In our area, women are still treated as second-class citizens who have no voice and say in anything.”

“I am a post graduate and I wanted to do something to improve the condition of women in my village. In January, I came in contact with these nine women and we decided to do some work to set an example that women can also earn money,” said Aradhna.

She says forming a self-help group to sell dry mushrooms was the first step.

“We took a loan of Rs 1 lakh under National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and started the work of drying mushrooms in January. But before we could have started the business, lockdown was imposed in the country. We were in debt of Rs 50,000.”

Aradhna says it opened them up to severe criticism. “People started giving suggestions and opinions to us that women should stay at home and women don’t understand the basics of business,” she said.

Another member of the group, Ravita Shakya, 28, said, “We failed in our business and my husband, who was a labourer, also came back from Delhi to the village after the lockdown. We were facing a tough time as we didn’t have money to have food properly. I was ready to do any hard work to help my family financially.”

Ravita said it was Morena district project manager of NRLM, Dinesh Singh, who told them about the demand for masks in rural areas. “We collected Rs 2,000 to purchase clothes and other items to start stitching masks,” said Ravita.

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“We stitched about 300 masks in a month and earned Rs 3,000. It boosted our confidence and panchayat secretaries and sarpanchs helped us in selling the masks,” said Anita Dhakad, another member of the group.

She went on to say that the pioneering group of women then contacted at least 100 more women, mainly migrant labourers from different villages, for stitching masks and gave them Rs 25 per 10 masks. “In the past seven months, we stitched about 83,000 masks,” said Anita.

“When we earned Rs 3,000 by selling masks, I can’t explain my happiness as my son was ill and I didn’t have money for his treatment. All the women of the group decided to give money for treatment of my son,” said Renu Jatav, 30.

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She also acknowledges a swift change in how she is now treated by her family and others. “As my husband has no work, I bear financial burden of my family. Now, family members and other relatives have started respecting me,” said Renu.

Aradhna Dhakad, said the women have decided to establish a more permanent business. “We started a café and a stitching centre in December first week. We are getting good response as women and men both are coming to us for work and guidance,” said Aradhna.

Morena district collector Anurag Verma hopes this group’s story may perhaps help in mindset change. “We will promote the story of these 10 women in the area to change the mindset of people towards women and to empower women. Such successful stories will definitely improve the sex ratio of the district,” Verma said.

(With inputs from Shiv Pratap Singh from Morena)

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    She is a senior reporter based at Bhopal. She covers higher education, social issues, youth affairs, woman and child development related issues, sports and business & industries.

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