It was a hot March morning with the noon time sun overhead when my car approached Bhajgera village, navigating through narrow village roads with the expanse of lovely green fields on one side. As we went further my eye caught the sight of a neatly constructed red brickwork building with the Indian tricolor hoisted on its roof. I could see a bunch of uniformed school children trickling out of this building, and that’s how I recognized the Literacy India center of Palam Vihar (Bhajgera). This was my second visit to the premises.
On my last visit, Capt. Indraani Singh, the founder of Literacy India, had very enthusiastically taken me around its facilities and explained to me about the various activities of Literacy India, including their Livelihood initiative for women called Indha (which I am now associated with). She also introduced me to the other people working with the organization and we spontaneously started brainstorming on what more we could do around here. I found a certain honesty in what I saw here and the intent of its people, and quickly decided that I would want to be involved with this organization, and that’s how this blog was started.
The purpose of my second visit was to talk to the women at the Tailoring and Paper units of Indha, understand their hopes and aspirations and how Indha had impacted their lives. And then present what I saw on this blog.
The women involved with this center are first trained in the skills of tailoring/ making of paper-products by Literacy India and are then either absorbed at the Center or become capable of finding jobs outside. As most of the women belong to extremely poor sections of society, they come here with the intent of becoming self reliant and capable of financially supporting their families.
The Indha tailoring unit at the Bhajgera center, produces purses and handbags of different shapes and sizes, which are then retailed across India and the world at select stores (eg. Bombay Stores) and at exhibitions. Ikea-style, the purses are named after the women who design them.
I spoke at length to Rita Rani, who has been associated with Indha for the last 3 years. She not only tailors the purses but also trains the newcomers. She proudly informed me that her earnings of Rs 6000 per month are more than what her husband brings home, something she had never imagined would happen before she joined Indha. And something that is hard to imagine in the Indian society where the male members have traditionally been the chief wage earners. Rita is now also supporting the education of her sons who are studying to become engineers!
I also visited the Indha paper unit, involved in producing all kinds of paper products from paper-bags to diaries to file folders. This is a newer initiative, and hence needs more marketing support than the tailoring unit. I sat with the women there and tried my hand at what they were doing but quickly realized that I am much better writing this blog than making paper bags.
I interviewed a lady who had been associated with Indha for the last one year, belonged to the nearby village and was widowed 2 years ago. Not only did livelihood avenues dry up for her after her husband’s death, but she felt that her relatives and society had stopped respecting her. That’s when she joined Indha, seeing other women in her village benefit from it. She now substitutes her meagre income at the farm with her earnings from Indha, is training her daughter to become a teacher at Literacy India and finds a voice for her feelings interacting with other women also in a similar situation. In her own words, her small village has started on the path of progress ever since Literacy India came there.
As for me, it was a humbling experience interacting with the women at the center (some of whom had tears welling up in their eyes while narrating their stories) and seeing how change is happening at the grassroots with initiatives like Indha.
- Pallavi Chopra
Literacy India 'Indha' Volunteer