Ravaged by Maoist violence for years, Dantewada in Chhattisgarh is now turning over a new leaf. The predominantly tribal district that has seen some of the bloodiest Maoist attacks on security forces is showing how a small step can prove to be a giant leap for women empowerment in a region where female literacy stands at less than 33 per cent, according to 2011 Census.
Featuring among 115 ‘aspirational districts’ selected by the Niti Aayog — the Aspirational District Programme was launched in January with the aim to effectively transform some of most underdeveloped districts of the country — Dantewada’s transformation received a push with the administration launching a mission to impart skills to local women and follow it up by providing employment opportunities with stable income.
The setting up of Shakti Garment on August 4 was a step in that direction. “With a positive male-female ratio of 1000:1023, there was a need to make women self-sufficient by developing micro-entrepreneurship and linking them to sustainable economic activities,” district collector Saurabh Kumar told The Sunday Standard. Explaining the rationale behind stting up a garment manufacturing unit, Kumar said that for profit-conscious brands, places like Dantewada are a more cost-effective location for manufacturing than big cities.
“Skill training programmes cannot be conducted in isolation and should become part of the start-up ecosystem. Unless a facilitating environment is created, most trainees lose touch with the skills they were taught. Shakti Garment was set up by women trained under Prime Minister Kaushal Vikas Yojana by professional experts to meet the highest industrial standards.”
The district administration initially invested `1.50 crore from the district mineral fund to set up Shakti Garment. The unit has provided employment to 122 local women who are manufacturing export quality garments for several big brands and government departments, which have started placing bulk orders.
“During the next few months, the strength of women employed here will rise to 500. We have three master trainers under whose supervision the garments are made,” said Ajay Sharma, in-charge of Shakti Garment.
The readymade garments made include shirts, trousers, kurtas, tops, towels, bedsheets and uniforms for corporate sector firms, government offices, schools and anganwadis. The national flag is also made.
The organisations which give the work orders provide the cloth materials, buttons, threads and zippers of their choice.For quality control, two master trainers monitor the production work on a daily basis, right from cutting of fabrics to giving finishing touches to the garments.
A final inspection is mandatory before dispatching the orders. Ensuring quality is important as any defect could result in rejection of the entire lot and could jeopardise future orders. Quality inspectors of the brands that give the work contracts routinely visit the factory in 7-10 days.The women work from 10 am to 5 pm. The district administration has arranged buses for their daily commute. There are 100 industrial stitching machines and over 25 other machineries required for making of garments.
“For the first three months, the women will get between `3,000 and `5,000, besides an incentive of `20 per piece produced in excess of the daily target of 150 garments. Based on their skill, efficiency and output, their monthly remuneration would be increased,” affirmed master trainer Sidharth Shankar. The amount may seem paltry, but the beneficiaries are delighted as it meets their immediate needs.
Both governments departments and popular brands vouched for the quality of the garments. “We received over 1,200 pieces of uniform for anganwadi children. They are cost-effective and the stitching quality is excellent,” averred R K Tandon, project officer, women and child development department at Geedam block.
A senior official of a big brand praised the efforts of the administration to localise the manufacturing of garments of known brands. He was confident that Shakti Garment “will be flooded with work contracts after the strength of women touches 500”.Considering that Shakti Garment has bagged orders worth over `3.5 crore in just over a month, the optimism is not unfounded.
self-sustaining economic model
The type of skill set that can work in Dantewada and a pay structure that would be feasible — these were the prime concerns when Shakti Garment was set up on August 4 this year, said Dantewada collector Saurabh Kumar. If the women hired for the centre get assured income for six months at a stretch, the state government will recover the amount it invested on the training. “If this economic model works well, the women-owned garment company will work entirely as a profit-making enterprise in Dantewada.
We are further working to scale up the manufacturing process and will increase the strength of industrially trained women to at least 500 to make the initiative a self-sustaining economic model,” Kumar said. Shakti Garment is getting bulk orders from private sector as well as government departments. “Popular brands are willing to offer bigger work contracts. But, for that we need to further scale up the production to meet their heavy demands,” he said.