"It takes us one big flag to stitch one bag, and so they are quite big. With another match scheduled for the end of next week in the Chinnaswamy stadium, we estimate that we will be able to stitch another 2000 bags!"
A wave of enthusiasm fills the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru as the batsman hits a boundary. The match inches closer to its end, and it is pretty clear to all who the winner will be. Colourful flags wave across the stadium that can seat close to 40,000 people at a time. The last ball is bowled, the match won and the players felicitated. An exciting time was had by all. The fans march out of the stadium, talking loudly amongst themselves about the gripping moments of the match. What they leave in their wake is a trail of trash – food packets, bottles and the flags of the teams they had just been gleefully waving. The pride, enthusiasm and loyal support, now biting the dust.
These flags, made of good quality cloth meet the same fate as the other dry waste when the army of sweepers enter the stadium. But this year round, in Bengaluru, something different is fluttering in the air spelling hope for several street vendors across the city.
Swabhiman, a non-governmental organisation based in the city has taken up the mantle to upcycle the flags into sturdy, durable cloth bags.
“We work with underprivileged homemakers in the city, who we realised, had a lot of time on their hands when their husbands had gone off to work and children to school. Swabhiman was looking to empower them in simple ways to utilise this free time to increase their house income. So, we started distributing sewing machines to women. When Bengaluru imposed the plastic ban in 2016, we involved these women in stitching cloth bags to be given to the street vendors,” Venkat Iyer, the founder of Swabhiman, tells The Better India (TBI).
Iyer had started the NGO along with his wife Vijaya Iyer, in 2007, and they have been undertaking numerous initiatives for the past 12 years.
Read about Swabhiman here: At an Age When Most People Relax, This Retired Couple Came Back to India to Help Its Poorest
Taking about 30 women under their wing, the NGO started aiming at events such as marathons and concerts in Bengaluru to collect flex banners. The tailors would stitch them into bags.
“This year, social worker Ramakanth suggested we should collect flags discarded in the IPL matches, and we gladly hopped on board. Saahas Zero-Waste enterprise, based in the city, has been given the responsibility to collect all the waste during the matches and we collaborated with them to segregate the flags from the rest. They hand over the flags to us which our skillful tailors turn into useful cloth bags,” the 59-year-old tells TBI.
Chirag Arora, an employee of a private firm in Bengaluru is sponsoring this initiative.
Iyer charges him Rs 8 per stitched bag at zero profit. The amount charged is merely the labour cost that empowers the slum women associated with the NGO.
“When I was told about this initiative, I thought, why not reach out to my social circle and get more people involved. I put up a Facebook post and the response I got was overwhelming. Not just Bengaluru, but people from all across India and even abroad were willing to help us. Some even said that they will purchase the bags. But that would have required the IPL teams to grant official permission and would have kept the bags from helping street vendors. So I was very particular that the bags should not be sold. They will be distributed at random to the sponsors. Irrespective of whether a person gives us Rs 100 or 1000, I send them any number of bags to be distributed among street vendors in their areas. This helps the word to spread far and wide,” the social workers explains.
The bags are given to the street vendors for free, who then can use them to hand over their wares to prospective customers, in place of paper or polythene bags.
He also specified that the Bengaluru IPL team management has been supportive of the initiative.
The engineer has been working with Iyer in testing single and double ply bags. A batch of 50 bags that he has already received has been distributed among a handful of street vendors in Koramangala. He is expecting another batch of 850 bags very soon now.
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“The women take between 15 to 20 minutes to make one bag. We have stitched close to a thousand bags so far,” Iyer tells The Better India, adding, “The bags we have made are quite big and it takes one big flag to stitch one bag. But Chirag has requested us to make smaller bags now, so we are estimating that by the end of the next week, when another match is scheduled in the Chinnaswamy stadium, we would be able to stitch a total of 3000 bags.”
Redesigning the IPL flags into bags is not the primary job of the tailors. They are engaged in stitching bags for their clients for the most part of their day. In between meeting their deadlines, the tailors take out time to stitch the flags.
In the lively IPL season, when thousands of cricket fans cheer for their teams and leave behind mountains of refuse, it is amazing initiatives like these, led by Iyer and Chirag, that are transforming the trash into something useful.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)