An Odisha labourer’s journey towards employing migrant brothers
Sisir Gouda who began his work as a labourer in a textile factory in Mumbai during his 20s, has today opened his own unit where he employs 16 Odia migrant labourers, writes Sisir Panigrahy
BERHAMPUR: From being a migrant labourer to bringing many migrant labourers back home and providing them with respectable employment, Ganjam’s Sisir Gouda’s journey has been a long and difficult one. But his determination to bring about a change in the lives of migrant labourers of Ganjam has helped him overcome the challenges and obstacles at every step.
In his 20s, when Sisir failed matriculation, he decided to migrate to Mumbai (then Bombay) to find work. Hailing from Balakrushnapur village, around 10 km from Berhampur, the 53-year-old chose Mumbai as many people from his village worked in the textile and diamond cutting mills there. After a few days of struggle, he got his first job as a labourer at the Bombay Rayon Fashions Ltd. for only Rs 150 per month in the year 1989. The textile sector interested him and over the years, he worked in various companies and learnt various aspects of production. The last company where he served as a textile specialist paid him a salary of Rs 70,000 a month.
During his stint at textile mills in Mumbai, Sisir came across many Odias from Ganjam who worked there round the clock to earn a paltry amount. He wanted to do something for them back home. “In cotton factories at Mumbai, thousands of Odias are employed. Many of them have acquired expertise in the field and want to return home but are not able to do so in the absence of employment opportunities. To give them an opportunity back home, I decided to set up a textile factory in my village,” he said.
In 2020 when Covid-19 was at its peak, he quit his job and returned to Balakrushnapur village to start his venture in his ancestral land which measures 1.5 acres. But the problems didn’t end. The idea did not go down well with his siblings who demanded their share of the ancestral land and after the division, Sisir was left with his share of 40 x 60 ft land. Although the land was grossly inadequate for his venture, he went ahead and constructed a shed. He planned to install 10 machines including eight looms but the local sarpanch did not issue a no-objection certificate and banks did not approve his loan request for Rs 3 crore.
Despite the setbacks, he did not give up and invested all his savings to set up the factory. Seeing his interest, the local Union Bank branch agreed to provide him a finance of Rs 78 lakh. As markets opened up, some companies at Mumbai asked Sisir to return and one offered him the job of a textile consultant. He agreed and during this stint, he informed Odia workers there about his venture. Around 300 of them expressed their interest to work with him but Sisir told them that only 16 workers could be employed for the time being.
In the meantime, he started the groundwork for his venture and finalised companies to supply him with unprocessed cloth. He also completed the infrastructure work for his factory. Sisir managed to open his factory - Matexmate Textiles Pvt Ltd - in June this year when the bank released his loan amount. He roped in 16 Odia workers from Mumbai who are residents of Balakrushnapur and villages nearby.
The cloth samples from his factory were accepted by over a dozen companies and they have placed orders with him.
Today, his team produces around 55,000 metre cloth in the factory per month and the workers work in two shifts. Based on their skills, the workers are earning anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 30,000 per month. Sisir aims to engage more Odia migrant labourers but resources are a concern. “If I manage to get more than an acre of land and finance, I can install 16 more looms and employ around 250 persons in the facility,” Sisir said. He added that the state government should open a textile cluster in Ganjam where many migrant workers can be skilled and employed.