Puniya Xalxo, who once used to brew and sell country-made liquor has today managed to eradicate alcohol from her village, Sosai, in the Mandar block of Ranchi.
Her life took a turn when she associated with Latifolia Enterprises, a company that makes and sells laddoos made of Mahua.
Mahua is a tree found in abundance in the forests of Jharkhand. Despite health benefits and medicinal values, the tree has become a curse for the tribal society of Jharkhand.
The flowers of this tree are used commonly in almost every tribal village to brew country-made liquor, the consumption of which eventually leads families to chaos and violence.
However, Latifolia Enterprises, an all-women company set up in 2017 by social organisation, Torang Trust, has emerged as a saviour for the tribal households. The company trains tribal women to make laddoos out of the mahua flower, instead of using it to brew liquor.
Talking about her journey from a roadside liquor-seller to an entrepreneur, Puniya says, “It was embarrassing to sit on the roadside and sell mahua liquor, but that was the only source of income available for my family and me. Men used to sit at my stall, drink alcohol and occasionally pass a comment or two on me, but I had no option than to bear it.”
However, after joining Latifolia Enterprises, she started living a dignified life.
“I now earn double of what I used to while selling alcohol. Also, I don’t have to deal with the lecherous stares and comments of men.”
Puniya gradually roped in other women from her village to use the mahua flowers for making laddoos, and today, her village has become alcohol-free.
Sarojini Minj, who accompanies Puniya in this task said that over the last few months the orders for laddoos has increased so much that the flowers from their village do not suffice. She says, “The order for laddoos goes up to 50 kgs. We have now started buying mahua flowers from neighbouring villages and are trying to rope in more women in the industry.”
At present, over 1,000 tribal women are working with Latifolia Enterprises, directly or indirectly, and are involved in various works, from picking mahua flowers to the making and packaging of the laddoos.
Dr Vasavi Kiro of Torang Foundation shares that the idea behind teaching women to make mahua laddoos serves three purposes– the eradication of alcoholism, making women self-dependent and providing nutrition to the villagers.
“If the Mahua flowers produced in the villages are used to make laddoos, then there will be nothing left for brewing liquor, and like Sosai, all the tribal villages of Jharkhand will become alcohol-free,” she notes.
Being linked with the Mahua laddoo production also helps women become self-dependent and serves as a barrier against human trafficking and migration.
A few months ago, four women from Jojotola village of Bundu block in Ranchi got an opportunity to migrate to Assam to work in the tea gardens. One of them, Sunita Tirkey, shares, “I had just started working with the Latifolia Enterprises and was in two minds about leaving. However, I decided to stay and see how the business goes because it wouldn’t have been easy for me to leave my home and family behind.”
She adds, “I am glad that I decided to stay back and now, I am confident that I will never be leaving my village in search of work.”
Mahua laddoos will also help address the extensive problems of malnutrition and ill health in the state. Dr Kiro, who is also a practitioner of Hodopathy, a tribal medicine form, says, “Mahua is rich in proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins and can help fight malnutrition. Also, it helps in curing diseases and illness like paralysis, epilepsy and pyrea.”
The laddoos manufactured by Latifolia Enterprises are not just being sold in the state market but are also in demand in neighbouring states.
Dr Kiro states, “At present, we are supplying laddoos to Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. However, we are trying to expand our ambit to other states too. We put up stalls in fairs where we can reach a variety of customers.”
Recently, Torang Trust also received requests from NGOs working for the tribal populations of Gujarat and Maharashtra to provide training in making mahua laddoos.
Dr Kiro says that apart from making mahua laddoos, the company has also started making jelly and pickles from the flower. She says, “We are also talking to the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society to set up a factory for the production of mahua wine. The factory will not be situated anywhere in the rural area, and the wine made there would be directly exported to foreign countries.”
Kiro concludes, “We aim to use mahua in strengthening the tribal economy while fighting against alcoholism.”
(Written by Kelly Kislaya and Edited by Shruti Singhal)