Anvi Mehta | Sep 12, 2021 | 5 min read
Belgavi: Born in Hubli, Karnataka, 48-year-old Bharti Kabbur is a fitting example of how determined women can achieve self-empowerment. After 13 years of hard work and perseverance, she is now the proud owner of Deepika and Company – an all-women spice factory at Kittur Chennamma village in Belagavi district. Though the pandemic has pushed most of the families in her village into financial constraints, her nascent company is helping her women employees put food on the table.
At the age of 18, in line with the custom in most traditional families in the 90s, Bharti was married to businessman Mahesh Kabbur and moved from Hubli to Kolhapur city in Maharashtra. “We are three sisters in the family. Back then, parents believed in marrying off their daughters early, because they considered it as their biggest responsibility. When I came to Kolhapur, my life also was that of a homemaker with no exposure to the outside world,” she said.
For the next 17 years, she led the life of a homemaker – managing her house and raising her children. However, by the time she turned 35, she had realised the importance of financial independence for women.
Bharti started taking interest in her husband's business in coal and coke products. With time, she learnt about business planning, accounting and making investments. Slowly she developed an interest in finances and started working for an investment firm. Despite having no degree in finance, she learnt how to buy and sell shares and make profits from the equity market.
Bharti made her first attempt at entrepreneurship after her eldest daughter started going to school – she started a small home-based spice business with the help of a few friends from her neighbourhood. Having grown up seeing women hand-grinding spices and preparing spice mixes at home, she said, “We realised that in cities, most women buy spice mixes from local stores. Hence, we started preparing spice mixes and selling them. However, after my son was born, I had to stop the business to take care of him.”
A few years later, her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur were spurred up again when she started interacting with a diverse group of parents at her children’s school and tuition centres, some of whom were entrepreneurs,
In February 2019, Bharti decided to start her spice business all over again – this time she chose to provide employment to women in her native village of Kittur Chennamma. She started operations from a room in her home in the village and started her business with 10 varieties of spice mixes prepared using traditional recipes. Bharti’s initial investment was Rs 1.25 lakh, which included her savings and some money she borrowed from her husband.
“My main objective of starting Deepika and Company – an all-women spice factory – in my native village was to encourage more local women to become financially independent and lead a better life,” Bharti said. “It is a small village where women were hesitant to venture out of their homes to earn money even when their families faced financial constraints. After understanding how helpful it would be if these women could become financially independent, I decided to set up my company here,” she said.
She said that initially it was difficult to convince women to work for her because they had never thought that “grinding spices” could fetch them a steady income. She managed to persuade four women to join her efforts. Using her family’s traditional recipes, she prepared small pouches of spice mixes and sold them locally to get insights on the quality and pricing.
“I met a few officials from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission to learn how to start my business in the village. They helped me to apply for the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Program, and I received a loan of Rs 23.75 lakh to set up a factory with machines for grinding, mixing and packaging spices,” said Bharti.
Soon, she increased her workforce from four members to nine as she started supplying these spice mixes in bulk to other companies for rebranding and selling in cities such as Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi.
Bharti’s business was just starting to grow when the first wave of pandemic hit and the nation was put under lockdown. Even though her business has slowed a little, it has nevertheless helped the families of her employees survive even after their husbands lost their jobs.
“I have been hand-grinding and packaging spices for Deepika and Company for two years now. During the lockdown, my husband had no work. When nobody in my family could earn money, I was able to bring home between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,000 every month. I never knew that I could earn money by preparing spices,” said Jayshree, a 49-year-old woman who works for Bharti.
Another 42-year-old woman said that until she started working in Bharti’s company, she never thought that earning money was a woman’s domain. “I realised what financial independence was only after I started to earn Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 and contributed to my family’s expenses. This has boosted my confidence tremendously,” she said, adding that her husband, who had initially hesitated to send her out for work, has started supporting her ambitions and helping her in household chores so that she can go to work.
For a village of this size and unknown to many people who are already enjoying the flavours created by Deepika and Company, it is a big breakthrough in women empowerment. With her company raking up a turnover of Rs 18 lakh in the financial year 2020–2021, Bharti now plans to employ more women from the village and train them in mixing and packaging the spices. She also dreams of expanding the variety of spice mixes to further increase the company’s profits, so that she can pay off her loans and start a new unit in the next five years.
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