At President’s initiative, five women outfits have found their feet and are now raring to explore the market
Age has not dampened her spirits nor diminished her creative skills. At 65 she is willing to take up challenges even while she juggles jobs to feed her family. Bimla Devi fits the bill of an empowered woman and what can be achieved with a little bit of help.
One of many people who reside inside the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan complex here in the Capital, Bimla Devi is among the handful of women who are part of self-help groups started this past year inside the President’s Estate on the recommendation of President Pratibha Patil.
Bimla Devi works in a nursery school run inside the Estate, runs errands, looks after her house and then joins her friends at the Kalpana Chawla self-help group (SHG) where she along with eight other women put old paper to good use. “We mostly make carry-bags and envelopes, but we can also craft old paper into fancy bags, shape it into birds and toys and even carve out objects like baskets and bowls,” she says with palpable pride.
Being part of an SHG where their creativity is not just a source of satisfaction but a means of earning their “own money” instils a sense of independence. Orders for their products are not exactly pouring in and they have little to show by way of “earning”, but the nine women who are part of the Indira SHG are unwavering in their optimism. This group that grinds and sells spices from their little niche inside the President’s Estate are not worried about immediate gains; these entrepreneurs have bigger plans.
“Whatever we earned, we have put back into the business. We could have distributed it among ourselves but we chose to invest it, buy more whole spices and sell more ready-to-use masala. Our customer base is growing and slowly we will start making more money, then we can take our share. But for now consolidating the business is the priority,” says Shehnaz, a member.
Named after Mother Teresa, Rani Jhansi, Sarojini Naidu, Indira Gandhi and Kalpana Chawla, these SHGs are not only inspiring in nomenclature but have infused a spirit of empowerment even in those who are not part of the exercise. “We were not doing anything till we got this opportunity of preparing fertilizer for the President’s Estate gardens. We have been able to supplement the family income and without compromising on our daily household duties,” says Savita, who works with the Mother Teresa SHG that produces vermin compost.
The group recently sold 150 kg of compost worth Rs.35,000 to Rashtrapati Bhavan for its use.
“It was entirely the President’s initiative to get these SHGs going. Women’s empowerment is on top of her agenda and she was keen that the women inside the Estate be given opportunities to become self-sufficient,” explains an official in the President’s Office.
Right now there are five SHGs: one engaged in vermin composting, one making organic compost from household waste, a third engaged in grinding and selling spice, the fourth and the fifth involved in producing paper products from used paper and in beauty and grooming services.
“Bank accounts have been opened for each of these groups and the money earned by sale of products is deposited here. This way, they also learn how to operate a bank account and manage their money,” says the official.
While the President’s Office is the major consumer for the products created by these groups, the women are confident that their wares will find takers outside as well. Convinced of their success, Shehnaz says: “The masala is unadulterated. After being used in the Rashtrapati Bhavan canteen and in some homes inside the President’s Estate, word has spread about its quality. We recently got a call from a woman living outside Delhi asking if we deliver in other cities. Right now we don’t even have the ISI mark required for selling produce in a shop, but we are confident that soon we will be a well-known brand.”