Sameena Begum (35) and Nasurin Beevi (40), who had been eking out a living by working as housemaids for over 10 years after their husbands deserted them, are now proud makers of silk yarn.
For about 25 hapless women like Begum and Beevi, hailing from the Muslim community, the multi-end silk reeling unit established by the Slum Level Federation (SLF), a conglomeration of women self help groups with the support of the government has given an identity of silk yarn makers.
Thanks to Collector V.Rajaraman’s guidance and encouragement and the logistic support extended through Mahalir Thittam, the SLF has set up the unit at a cost of Rs. 13.40 lakh to reel silk yarn from cocoons and provide economic independence to the poor womenfolk.
When V.Prabakaran, Director, Department of Sericulture, Tamil Nadu (Salem) inaugurated the unit on September 20, the members were fresh from 15 days training but they fought against all odds to learn the nuances of reeling in a short span of time.
Life turned cruel for Begum when her husband left her about 10 years ago after she complained about his gambling and drinking habits with the local Jamat. Her son was three-years-old and she had to work in two houses as a maid to bring him up. She earned about Rs. 400 a month from each of the house she worked in.
Her son has joined a course in the ITI and she has joined the reeling unit to make yarn, bidding adieu to the domestic work. “The salary will not be much, but it gives a sense of pride to work here. There is an assured earning and I am confident of stabilising in life,” she says.
Similar was the case of Beevi, who has been living separately for the past 15 years after leaving her husband, a drunkard. She also worked as a domestic help to bring up her two daughters. With the meagre earning and the help of relatives, she had arranged the marriage of her two daughters. “I am no more a servant maid, I am happy to be a producer of silk yarn,” she says elated.
Jainuthan Jaria, who was working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme and Jesima Begum who stitched blouses for her neighbours for a living have joined the unit to supplement the family income. Jaria’s husband worked as a supplier in a hotel and Begum’s husband, a milk vendor.
“We have given preference to widows and women who were deserted by their husbands,” says S.Rajiabegum, SLF secretary, who took the initiative to set up the unit. Of the 25 women working in the unit, three are widows and five deserted by their husbands, she adds. Hindu women were also members of the Federation and the unit employed a few of them too, she says.
M.Maharani was a farm worker before she joined the unit. Her husband was a coolie and she has to supplement his income to take care of their two daughters. She earns about Rs. 100 a day and would be happy if she got Rs. 200, she says.
R.Ilakkiya, who could not study beyond class X due to her poor family background, had worked in a mill in Tharapuram for a year. She quit the job as she did not like the working atmosphere and joined the unit here. She too earns about Rs. 100 a day and spends Rs. 20 for her bus fare.
In a short span, the workers had produced two lots - 57 kg and 40 kg of silk yarn and sold them at the State Sericulture Department’s Anna Silk Exchange in Kancheepuram. “On October 23, we sold a fortnight’s production of 67 kg of 20-22 Denier silk yarn for Rs. 2.19 lakh and made profit,” Ms. Rajiabegum told The Hindu at the work place. They made the yarn from 513 kg of Bivoltine cocoon (white), bought at a cost of Rs. 1.8 lakh. “We are confident of successfully running the unit and proposed to set up a twisting unit to add value to the yarn and realise a better price,” she says.
She also says most of the women who worked in the unit were either widows or were deserted by their husbands. Though they were paid only Rs. 100 to Rs. 120 a day, they drew a sense of pride in making the yarn, she points out. The State government and the Department of sericulture have helped SLF with a subsidy of Rs. 7.50 lakh to set up the unit while SLF made a contribution of about Rs. 6 lakh, she adds.
Procurement of cocoons is a problem as they have to go all the way to Theni, Dindigul and Usilampatti spending Rs. 1,700 to Rs. 2,500 towards transport charges. The SLF would be able to save a good amount of money if cocoons were made available locally, Ms. Rajiabegum says.
The SLF formed in 2008 at the motivation of Women’s Integrated National Development Trust (WIND Trust) to provide livelihood to poor Muslim women, had been engaged in small businesses like selling saris all these years. “We have reached a milestone now,” she says.
K.Thangaraj, Technical Assistant, Central silk board, who conducted a preliminary training programme for 15 days and provided technical guidance, rated the silk yarn produced in the unit as A grade, equivalent to ‘China silk.’
He said this was the first silk yarn unit in a non-cluster area. The unit has facilities for cocoon cooking, auto air driver and cocoon stifling to sort out reliable cocoons, he said. S.Bismillah Nasurudheen, Assistant Project Officer (Self Employment, Mahalir Thittam, Sivaganga) said the department was coordinating with SLF to get an additional bank loan for working capital and secure matching grants from the Backward Classes welfare office.