Overcoming familial and cultural restrictions, women in villages near Shimla are creating business opportunities for themselves using traditional knowledge.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh: Even grass is a weapon in the hands of the skilled. Manju, a native of Roda, located around 35 km from Himachal Pradesh’s summer capital Shimla, just proved it right.
Despite no family support, Manju made herself self-sufficient by creating decorative items using things that most people do not think as worth investing in — Kusha grass, mauli (thread), waste plastic bottles, clay, waste paper and clothes.
“Our financial situation was bad. We had taken land on lease for farming, and I wanted to help my husband,” Manju told 101Reporters.
“My husband and his family did not like the fact that I was making these products and selling them in the streets,” said Manju. She added that her husband felt ashamed of her work and wanted her to work in the fields or contribute more to household chores.
“But this did not stop me. I made several products, which earned me Rs 1,600 for the first time,” she beamed.
That was when Kandaghat block livelihood manager Bhavita Sharma encouraged her to work in the community and provided tips on product marketing.
“This spurred me to form the Jai Maa Durga SHG in 2018, along with some of my friends,” she said. Her traditional skills not only came to her aid but also bettered the lives of over a dozen others.
Today, over 60 women are part of her group. She also finds time to support women SHGs from other villages regarding the marketing of their products.
Going from strength to strength
At first, Manju and her friends received a month-long training on products made from pine needles under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). They also received Rs 30,000 to set up a shop of their own.
Sharma told 101Reporters that Manju and her colleagues were from very poor backgrounds. “But now, their products reach several parts of the country through exhibitions. They get sales orders over the phone from more places,” she said.
The women from these SHGs have taken Kusha grass, usually reserved for religious purposes, and turned them into everyday items of use (Photo: Rohit Prashar)
The women earn anywhere around Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 a month, by working for two to three hours every day. The amount is sufficient to meet household expenses. They are now able to send their children to private schools as well.
Like Manju, women in Tundal and Kaneti villages have used the Kusha grass to make innovative products and set up shops. Lalita Devi, the secretary of the Jai Jwala SHG, Tundal village said the members of her group earlier sold their products on roadside stalls along the route of Chail, a tourist destination in Solan district.
“The NRLM support helped us set up a tin stall, making it easier to sell products even during monsoons,” she added.
Devi said her SHG has come a long way from solely relying on traditional knowledge to making more beautiful and attractive products after receiving training and watching YouTube videos. “We now use shiny beads as well, which helped in boosting sales.”
A homegrown initiative
Manju Devi, another member of Jai Jwala SHG, said they keep changing the products as per the trends and demands of customers.
Things started to change for the group after the 2017 Doklam standoff. “Earlier, a lot of decorative items and rakhis used to come from China. But after the Doklam dispute, the arrival of Chinese products dipped, which benefited us,” Devi told 101Reporters.
People became more aware of homegrown products and started buying them. “Rakhis made from Kusha grass were selling like hot cakes. We managed to sell for over Rs 20,000,” Devi recounted.
She said her group took 20 minutes to make one rakhi, which was sold for Rs 30. “We get a lot of orders by phone for rakhis and other items from places outside Himachal Pradesh. Once we receive bulk orders, all members of our group assemble and start working to deliver the products in time,” Devi said.
The women are making over 40 different types of products using Kusha grass, including earrings, jewellery, pooja items, roti box, pen stand, table lamps, and sweaters and jackets for children. (Photo: Rohit Prashar)
The women are making over 40 different types of products using Kusha grass, including earrings, jewellery, pooja items, roti box, pen stand, table lamps, and sweaters and jackets for children.
Kusha grass is very soft, yet long-lasting. Products made from it can last for more than five years and can be washed as well!
Several women associated with the SHGs in villages have stated that the new ventures have boosted their confidence to such a level that they can easily sell their products in the market. They claimed that they make these products in their free time, after completing the day’s work.
A green venture
These women SHGs have contributed immensely towards environment protection and the Swachh Bharat Mission through their businesses, by organising cleanliness drives and using plastic waste like bottles and wrappers in their products. The raw materials used for their products come from grasslands. Shalu Verma, a member of Lakshmi SHG, told 101Reporters that the Kusha grass, which is used for ritual purposes, is rarely found in grasslands.
“That is why we work to conserve these grasslands. We protect them from forest fires and ensure that no SHG member cuts grass when it is raw. If it is cut before the due time, the yield gets affected,” said Verma.
The SHGs have also launched a campaign to save the Kusha grass on panchayat land. They plant it at different locations every year, and make fire lines. They also ensure that the grass variety is cut in time.
According to the women, cutting grass every year ensures that yield increases next time. They also create awareness among the villagers on the need to conserve the grass variety.
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