Rural women out to make mark in Indian market with their art and craft through Vedanta self-help-groups

When Shahnaz Hussain lost her husband 15 years ago, her life had come to a standstill. The thought of completing education of her 2 children and sustaining respectable livelihood almost dragged her into depression. This simple house-hold woman of village Bichhdi in Rajasthan had no financial support and the future looked uncertain. Speaking to fellow women of her village, for her sustainable livelihood, she came in touch with a Self-Help-Group 'Jai Hind' a women empowerment project by Vedanta Group in rural India. Shahnaz joined the group and was provided stitching and tailoring training by Vedanta Group Company in Rajasthan, Hindustan Zinc. Her determination to get her children educated and have a sustainable livelihood made her an active member of the group.

Women in rural and tribal India live a life that requires social and economic upliftment. As the women are core of family system in India, it is important for the rural society, like in urban society, that she should not only be educated but also socially and economically empowered. With this thought Anil Agarwal's Vedanta Group started Self-Help-Groups in rural India in 2006. Each Self-Help-Group needed to have about 10-15 women who would be provided relevant training according to the needs and interest and would be linked with market for selling the products and also with banks for financing the raw material.

But the large challenge was to convince them to spare time and join the groups. The rural system has its own challenges and the biggest has been the social system. The support of family members for the women becomes the vital point. The Vedanta group representatives had to convince not just the women in question but also the family members and make them understand as how her empowerment will bring prosperity to the family as well.

It was never easy to bring rural women together as they had clash of interest or rural beliefs and also difference of temperament. But once they came together, they started working like a strong team where they extended helping hand to each other and ensured their SHG comes out with best of products.
Most of these rural women were illiterate. Vedanta arranged their adult-education classes in the villages to make them capable of maintaining itinerary of their own products. Initially, Vedanta's team helped them in linkages but a situation has come when these women have become independent and they handle their ledger book and accounts with banks themselves. Shahnaz is one of the 28,500 rural and tribal women who have been able to support their families by joining Vedanta's SHGs.

A tribal woman of Lanjigarh, Kada Majhi from village Kinari who has been trained by Vedanta in stitching and tailoring sends her children to DAV Vedanta International School now. Vedanta also provided her a sewing machine and now she is able to earn about Rs.2000/- pm. In Lanjigarh area itself, 260 tribal women have been trained in various skills.

Tamil Nadu is also not behind. Lalitha from the state says, 'I and my mother and sister are members of Jasmine self-help-group and had interest in saree decoration skills, like embroidery etc. and Vedanta besides providing training also linked us with the local textile shops. Now, we are able to earn about Rs. 4000/- to 5000/- pm. About 750 such women are working in various Self-Help-Groups formed by Vedanta group company MALCO in Tamil Nadu.

In Tuticorin where Vedanta has copper plant, Juliet Suganthi showed interest in painting work. She joined 'Nachithiram SHG' and went for training in fashion jewellery. She now makes chains, necklace, rings and other items to sell in the market.

Similarly, Shanti Kanwar of Chattisgarh is a member of 'Sarvmangla SHG' formed by the group company BALCO. Shanti has been linked with rice milling and flour making unit. Girja Saarthi, a member of 'Mahamaya SHG' is engaged in paper plate making unit. Girja says, 'we started getting orders for our product from the day we started operating the unit. BALCO, besides forming our group also gave us financial support and helped us getting the orders. Now, we are directly linked with market.' Like Girja and Shanti, about 325 women are working in various SHGs and earning about Rs. 5000/- pm.

Not just in India, in the States of Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Orissa, Vedanta has organised Self-Help-Groups even in Zambia where the group has Konkola Copper Mines.

A number of NGOs across India and banks like HDFC, Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur and State Bank of India have come forward for providing financial assistance to the members of Self-Help-Groups.

Vedanta has so far formed more than 2100 such Self-Help-Groups and the company is further scaling up to the project to bring in more rural and tribal women so that they can be socio-economically empowered. Today, these women are business women of rural India and are out to make mark in Indian market with their art & craft and their skills in handicraft, embroidery, terracotta, tailoring, saree decoration, jewelry making, mushroom cultivation, poultry, goat husbandry, puffed rice processing, leaf plate-making, fish-farming, phenyl making, incense sticks/agarbati making, beauty parlor, typing institute, gold covering, oil sales, birds rearing, to name a few.