The road up to her house was sandwiched by overcrowded living quarters from either side. They were four-storey buildings facing each other with cotton sarees and school uniforms hanging out to dry. The little bodies that fill those uniforms on weekdays could be seen outside the building, on the street, using pedestrians or anything taller than them as a barricade from whoever was playfully trying catch them. Follow the semi-tarred road right outside the buildings and you’ll see the same road transform into a rocky, mud path. The houses here have tarpaulin sheets that double up as roofs. Lined on either side, these spaces are homes for many and are as big as an apartment kitchen. A kilometre in and away from any convenience store, medical clinic, bus stand or main road is where she lives.
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Lata Khandekar in all her gusto, invited us to her humble abode. On entering, I scanned my surroundings. It was rather apparent that Khandekar made a living with very little means at her disposal. Upon asking her what the 8th of March meant to her, she instantly replied in marathi, “It is a day for women.” That left me thinking, much like what you and I are used to, our daily diet of information is from content that is accessible to us on the internet. Hence, men and women on the internet share their opinions of Women’s Day and those opinions are recycled until we’ve heard and seen it all. But do people off the internet, without the luxury of constant connectivity think the same as us.
We here at Campus Time Pune decided to hear the opinions of those women who haven’t had the luxury of privilege and bring to you the stories of small-scale women entrepreneurs.
Khandekar’s grandson’s anklet jingles in the background as he sleeps. This was the only indicator that a child was in the room amidst a heap of bedding and other household items. But she speaks of her struggles to me, while she knits a tiny woolen dress for her to sell. She explains that she makes a profit of only Rs. 50-100 with each sale. But that still has led her to earn for her family and become an entrepreneur.
Much like Khandekar, Anita Chavan, a homemaker near Kothrud believes that her family comes first, but so does her sense of independence. Chavan has studied until high school and makes ladoos, home-made masalas, and perfumes to earn her family an income aside from what her husband does.
“My daughters are my priority. I don’t want to leave them and go outside to work. But I want to be able to afford a good education for them,” says Chavan.
She also believes that for women to thrive, women need to be supportive of each other. Squabbles, rumours, a lack of peer support is enough to kill one’s energy she believes.
Payal Bhujbal, an entrepreneur who designs and makes imitation jewellery, is of the same opinion. “Ek aurat hi ek aurat ki sabse badi dushman ban sakti hain,” she says. But she believes that support is hard to come by when women look towards men. “I feel only 10% of the men would go all the way to support a woman,” says Bhujbal. But she says that a drive to be independent has led her to continue working.
Another entrepreneur, Swati Godse believes that women need to let themselves dream to even achieve independence. Godse, along with her sisters, makes torans (decorative items that hang off doors) by recycling CDs.
In order to feel independent, Sushma Patil believes that one needs to be financially self-reliant. That is what led her to start providing her sewing skills for a “falls and piko for sarees” business.
Their stories give us a reason to think about how often does support from loved ones sustain itself? Even in our environment, how often do we support women even when all that is required is for us to hit a ‘share’ button. But support, financial or otherwise, comes with great difficulty for a lot of rural women entrepreneurs. So here is what you and I can do for a Starbucks coffee’s worth.
Given below is the link to a donation page, you can click here for the RangDe- a micro-crediting site that helps small-scale entrepreneurs find philanthropists. Donate a small amount, and a few more mouths will be fed because of the efforts of women entrepreneurs. Happy International Women’s Day!
P.S. The images are by the author for Gyaan Ruchi’s archives. Gyaan Ruchi is an NPO that works towards empowerment of women in Pune.
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