As a teenager Mahendri Pandey had only a handful of dreams. To earn a living and more importantly tell people that there’s more to Dantewada than insurgency. At 25, this tailor with the clothing brand Dannex—short for Dantewada Next—has achieved a bit of both. The factory has given a new identity to her village.
“A few years back, none of us would have believed that a clothing brand from my area would be sold online or delivered to big cities. Dantewada will now be associated with positive developments,” says Pandey with optimism. Not without reason. Since its opening in January this year, the company has had a turnover of Rs 7.62 crore, a considerable amount for a rural brand selling clothes priced below Rs 1,200.
Dantewada, a forested district in Chhattisgarh, is notorious for Maoist insurgency. But with the setting up of Nawa Dantewada Garment Factory under which the Dannex brand sells, hope seems to have filled the tribal households. “It’s my first job and I am earning Rs 7,000 a month. I could never have imagined earning this kind of income in a place such as ours,” says Pandey.
Taking the cue from her, more women from her family and the neighbourhood have joined the factory. Geeta Pandey, a 35-year-old homemaker, is a case in point. With no background in stitching she joined as an unskilled worker at half the pay, soon picked up the skills, and is now a full-time employee. “For women of Dantewada, besides farming, there are very few opportunities to make a living. This factory has given us the confidence to try earn a new way of living,” says Geeta. With an unemployed husband, her earnings are the only source of income for her household of four.
Dannex is first of its kind factory to employ women from the community on such a large scale in the area. “Here a stitch in time has saved not nine, but 400 tribal women who are employed in this unit,” says Manisha Devangan, its 24-year-old HR manager. The factory, which has been set up with the help of the district administration, will soon have three more outlets with jobs for 1,000 women. A dedicated pick and drop bus service is run by the factory and the salary for the factory workers ranges between Rs 3,500 and Rs 7,000.
It wasn’t easy to get tribal women to work in an organised setup. “The families are conservative and didn’t want the women to get out of their homes. But their thought process changed seeing the dedicated flow of income and the safe working conditions,” says Devangan. For 21-year-old Babita Kashyap, the factory is her gateway to fulfilling her ambitions. “I want to work for a year and study further. Using my savings, I want to travel to Mumbai and see all those big bungalows which we see in movies,” reveals Kashyap, whose father runs a grocery shop in the village.
For women like Pandey, Devangan and Kashyap, the factory is not just a place to earn their livelihood. They aspire that in a few years Dantewada will become a garment manufacturing hub. The tribals of the Naxal hinterland are weaving a new tale without blood and tears.
Unskilled women are given 45 days of training on cutting and stitching
Besides everyday wear, Dannex manufactures uniforms for the paramilitary forces and State police
The first consignment worth Rs 1.65 crore was sent to Bengaluru
Till August the company’s turnover was around Rs 7.62 crore
Expansion plans are afoot to employ 1,000 women