“Amar Swapna Dekhar Duti Nayan…”
(The two eyes of mine that dream)
“Whenever there is any function like a wedding or a child’s Annaprasan (ceremony of eating food first time), all of my friends call me to help them select what saree to wear and also to tie their sarees”, says Lakhibala while segregating the new bundle of sarees which has been delivered at her Saree shop. She today runs a successful saree business in her village and leads a dignified life. Along with business she also manages her SHG as its leader and encourages other members to start some small business by putting her work as an example of women empowerment. She has become an inspiration for others and often encourages the village youth to start their own entrepreneurial activities rather than running for jobs. SHGs have been boosting rural women entrepreneurship for sustainable village economies.
But two years ago, her situation was the opposite of today. Lakhibala Mondol hails from Durgabati village, North 24 Paragnas, West Bengal. She lives with her husband and three children. Like any other mother and wife, she used to dream of providing good education to her children, getting them married off and to build her own house and live a comfortable life with her husband. Her husband’s meagre income was not sufficient to improve her household situation. The main challenges faced by her were the dual responsibilities of housework and taking care of family, no education and less risk bearing capacity and lack of information and assistance.
When DBSS Barrackpore started working in their village, she shared her thoughts with the field staff of DBSS and requested for support to start her own small venture. DBSS advised her to join any three of the SHGs in her village and eventually she was linked with one. But she soon realised that in order to open and run a sustainable business she needs more money than what her present SHG could lend her. Thus, she planned to form a new SHG with more number of women members. DBSS supported in formation and strengthening of the new SHG named ‘Rupsa’ with 15 members and linked them to the bank for financial support for entrepreneurial activities. Lakhibala with support of DBSS and her group members managed to get a group loan of Rs. 1.25 lakh. From that amount she took Rs. 50,000 to start her saree reselling business.
Gradually with time her business has grown with increase in number of vendors and customers who like her taste and selection of sarees and throng her shop every now and then. During occasions like Durga Puja and Christmas her shop remains busy and crowded and sales also go up. Initial struggle was there to lift off her business but slowly she was able to establish it well. At present she is able to earn Rs. 5000-6000 on an average per month which increases if the sales are more. She has also kept few women from the village to help her in managing the shop and attend to customers. And eventually her dream to build a nice house with two floors was also realised. She also married off two of her daughters in a grand way and now is a well-respected business woman in the village.
Financial independence makes a woman assertive and empowered. Approximately 45 million rural women across India are mobilized into self-help groups. These groups have empowered them with skills, access to finance, markets, and business development services. Stories of women like Lakhibala have become leading symbols of empowerment through economic independence, inspiring and encouraging others to follow suit. In this globalized era, participation of women in the development of their country has become crucial. But for a male dominated society like India where majority of population lives in rural areas, it is very difficult for a woman to think about establishing their own business. But women in rural areas are now slowly coming out of their cocoons and accepting challenges and becoming economically independent.