Bhagwanpura (Samrala): Eleven years ago, Charanjit Kaur, then a landless labourer aged 35, was getting increasingly frustrated.
With three children to support, she and her husband laboured tirelessly each day doing odd jobs on daily wages but still found it hard to make ends meet. The situation was so bad that she would be desperate to even have a 100-rupee note in her hand, revealed Charanjit, a resident of Bhagwanpura village in Ludhiana district.
Desperate to provide a better future for her children, Charanjit approached some other women in her village facing similar difficulty and decided to set up her own enterprise. They formed Guru Arjan Dev Ji self-help group by taking a loan from the Oriental Bank of Commerce. Then, they converted a room at Charanjit's house into their workplace, bought a sewing machine, and set to work.
Jaswinder Kaur, a member of the self-help group (SHG), said that initially they had about six members and started sewing 'pallis' (synthetic covers used for agricultural and domestic purposes) and other types of bags. She informed that the earnings remained meagre at the start owing to the loan they had to pay off. When they approached the bank for a second loan soon after the project started, their request was declined, she informed.
They soon learnt that they could seek training from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) set up in the nearby Samrala town. They enrolled themselves in stitching and embroidery course to enhance their skills and with the help of KVK, they started showcasing their products at exhibitions and kisan melas (farmer fairs) organised by PAU.
They expanded their product range to include quilts, cushions, purses, curtains, interior decorative articles, mosquito nets, gloves, bed sheets, and covers for washing machine and cars. They also started making a variety of bags -- school bags, carry bags, backpacks, trolley bags, travel bags and jute bags.
The group has 10 members, Charanjit said, adding that the demand for their products increased after they started showcasing them at exhibitions and other fairs. They started getting bulk orders from some firms, factories and government departments, especially for gift bags and luggage bags.
"Whenever a bulk order comes, all of us forget food and sleep and keep working until the products are ready," said Charanjit.
She informed that they bought more sewing machines at subsidised rates under a government scheme after taking another loan, while some more machines were donated by a local company. The group currently has 10 sewing machines, and has managed to repay their second loan of Rs 3 lakh before taking another loan to expand their enterprise and to procure additional raw material.
Jaswinder said that while most of their raw materials come from Ludhiana, Khanna and Delhi, the jute comes from Kolkata. She said the start of the new school session is a busy time for them due to the large orders of school bags they receive.
She informed that the demand soars dueing harvest seasons as companies place bulk orders with them. Their clientele comprises residents of the area who usually order for bags and covers and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who buy quilts when they are visiting home, she revealed.
With the help of this venture, women are becoming increasingly self-reliant and are adding to the family income. Every member, on an average, earns around Rs 7,500 per month. A group member revealed that their husbands have also started helping them to buy raw materials, transport the finished goods, and at the time of exhibitions in cities.
As the group started gaining prominence, Charanjit was approached by the residents for training. She pointed out that several women from nearby villages, after being trained, have started sewing and repair work on their own. While they charge a nominal fee from these women, those who cannot afford it are trained for free.
The group has won numerous accolades and awards from the state government, including the 'Best Entrepreneur' award from the Pendu Vikas and Panchayat Vibhag and a first prize for the best stall at a farmer fair at PAU. The members of the self-help group said they keep learning new skills by attending workshops at the KVK in Samrala.
They have also started putting up traditional mini food courts during the farmer fairs at PAU where they serve regional delicacies like 'sarson da saag', 'makki di roti' and 'gur di choori'.
Incidentally, some of the children of these women have formed their own self-help group and have started an enterprise in catering, bakery and other home science products including decorative items. Charanjit highlighted that every woman needs to use the skills that she has to earn money and become financially independent.
Last year, three officials from the KVK in Samrala wrote a research report on the success of these women in Innovative Farming, an international agricultural journal. Praising their efforts, the officials noted, "The overall story of the group is very inspirational and every member is working for a better life."