One of the largest unorganised agro-industries in the country, the beedi industry continues to occupy a significant place in the Indian economy.
Being a cottage industry, almost 90 per cent of the work force comprises rural women—who spend day and night rolling beedis just to earn a meagre income.
So was the story of Domakonda, a village in the Kamareddy district of Telangana, where generations have toiled their lives in the beedi industry and will continue to toil in the vicious circle until a change happens.
One man who managed to break free from this endless circle, that even his parents were part of, is doing everything to help the people from his village seek better avenues of livelihood.
D. Bala Prasad, who currently lives in Hyderabad, has been working in the IT industry for the past ten years and has always believed in helping others if it is in one’s capacity.
Live In For Everyone or LIFE is a non-profit organisation founded by Prasad last year that has been actively initiating various skill-based empowering programmes in Domakonda.
“I’d been initially providing the school students in our village with educational support a few years back. At some point, I’d realised that the impact isn’t penetrative enough. Most of the youngsters in our region took to beedi making upon being met with failure in studies. Plus, there seemed to be no other alternative too,” says Prasad, speaking to The Better India.
Also, one of the major concerns that was clouding the lives of people in Domakonda was the failing health of women workers who were spending close to 15-16 hours every day rolling the beedis.
“My own mother fell prey to cancer, spending most of her life making beedis. Girls as young as class 6 are pushed into doing the same because an extra pair of hands means more productivity. But by the time they reach adulthood, their health is already dilapidated”, he explains.
Because the task of beedi making is entrusted to women, they end up being exposed to dangerously high levels of carcinogens present in tobacco, which enter their bloodstream through their skin or inhaled as dust.
All these factors led the man to work out a comprehensive plan that would finally help the people in Domakunda break free from the entrapment of the beedi industry.
“I’d decided to categorize the people in the village according to their age and their social binding. While youngsters were willing to relocate to cities in search of employment, the middle-aged women didn’t want to step out of their village,” Prasad says.
And thus came about LIFE’s various empowerment programmes – catering to different strata in the village.
“For young girls who did not pass their school or degree exams, we got in touch with Apollo Hospitals who were ready to provide skill-based training for the women. Close to 15 women have found jobs as lab technicians in nearby cities where the pay is almost triple the meagre amount that they were given for making beedis,” he proudly mentions.
Similarly, Prasad reached out to GMR Skills Development Institute in Hyderabad for the men empowerment programme.
“The first batch of 30 young men have not only successfully completed their training but have also found jobs in the city. The second batch has already begun its training last week. This time, we have people from neighbouring villages as well,” Prasad says.
To help the middle aged women, Prasad contacted a local NGO, Nirmaan and approached the women to take up locally based entrepreneurial initiatives.
“The NGO trained about ten women in skills like making compounds like detergents, phenyl, hand wash and candles. But it wasn’t all that easy. A lot of hard work went behind the process of convincing the rural women—a task that was voluntarily taken up by many women employees at my workplace,” he mentions.
LIFE is reaching out to local government hospitals in the region that can buy the products made by the women and thus help them have a sustainable livelihood.
The organisation is also making the lives of farmers in the region better by introducing natural farming.
“We had selected ten farmers who were pretty downtrodden financially. Collaborating with Goshala Federation and the agriculture department, the farmers have been provided with two cows each and are being trained by others farmers who have been successfully practising natural farming,” he adds.
Not leaving behind school children, Prasad motivated the little ones by offering scholarships for those who excel in their academics.
In fact, Prasad has been supporting four government schools in the region along with some of his colleagues in Hyderabad.
“My driving force behind undertaking each of these initiatives is to make our village and the people independent. These may be small changes for an outsider, but for these people, it is a matter of self-sustenance or voluntarily drudging in poverty. It is their life, and I’m just being a facilitator in helping them take control of it—with pride”, Prasad says.
As of future ventures, Prasad plans on helping fund the coaching classes for civil service aspirants in Domakonda. “I’m sure there are many students who want to be part of the services, and I want to help them realise the dream. Only those who have lived through adverse situations would want to bring change in the society,” he adds.
You can reach out to LIFE at firstname.lastname@example.org or 8008376988.