KARWAR: Empowering women living in rural areas has been a challenging task for the government and for various organisations working in the sector. What’s even more challenging is convincing these, often repressed, women that they are capable of leading an independent and self-sufficient life. However, for these dozen women from Uttara Kannada district, who have faced several hardships, life took a sweet turn when they got into the chikki (traditional Indian sweet made from peanuts) business. Now, they supply the sweet to many anganwadis in the district, earn a handsome salary, and most importantly, lead an independent life.
The Uttara Kannada district administration and then Deputy Commissioner S S Nakul brought these women together under Motivate Enable Empower Rehabilitate And Achieve (MEERAA) group, and helped them set up businesses. The district administration set up separate self-help groups (SHGs) for the women living in Shirwada in Karwar taluk and Dasankoppa in Sirsi taluk.
These SHGs were included in the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), a Union government programme, and Rajiv Gandhi Chaitanya Yojane (RGCY), a state government programme. Both groups were given Rs 50,000 as subsidy and a Rs 2.5 lakh loan each from a bank to run their chikki business, in February 2017.
Kamala (name changed) from Shirwada says that the group of six women started making chikki in a small house, and like any other business, it was challenging at first. Officials held meetings with the teams to find solutions.
Recalling her journey, Kamala says, “In the beginning, we used to buy 1 kg of groundnut to make chikki. Now, we are producing 100 kg of chikki every day, and three tonnes in a month. It is a matter of pride for us. We earn anywhere between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 per month.”For Ganga, from Dasankoppa, marketing was a big challenge, but she says that the district administration enabled them to support their families.
Each unit makes up to Rs 3 lakh each month, and in the last two-and-a-half years, both units have made around Rs 1.5 crore. In the last one year, the incomes of these women has increased by 65 per cent. Just like other professionals, these women go to their units by around 9 am, and return by 6pm. If there is suddenly a big demand, the women work overtime, and also make profits.The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has given a clean chit to both units, and officials visit the units to ensure standards are met. MEERAA was honoured with the SKOCH Order-of-Merit Award recently at a function in New Delhi.
M Roshan, CEO, Zilla Panchayat, says, “Both units will get Rs 50 lakh additional funds for civil construction and to purchase modern equipment. With this, each unit can employ 20 more people. We are trying to capture the government market, which is a committed one, which is why we supply chikki to anganwadis. At present, only 500 anganwadis out of 1,600 are being supplied chikki by these two units. Once these units are upgraded with the latest machinery, they can supply to all anganwadis.”
The administration has also been roping in various departments to help these women learn important skills such as banking, marketing, communications, standardisation, and more. After the success story of these two units, the Women and Child Development Department and the district’s Zilla Panchayat have planned to set up one more unit at Chittakula near Karwar. Training has already begun for the group of seven women, and the unit will be up and running after another training session at Mangaluru.
Sharada, who sells chikki, says, “Earlier, in the houses I used to work as a maid, I wasn’t treated like a human being. I was earning just Rs 5,000, which was not enough to send my children to school. But now, I go to work after finishing my house work and sending the kids to school. I am also able to reach home in time. I’m happy that I’m independent. Even if I work extra hours, I get rewarded for it with extra salary.” Padma, who found it hard to earn an honest living earlier, said she is finally satisfied with the work she is doing now.