In 2008, Savita Labhade was faced with an unexpected crisis after her husband Atmaram died of a heart attack. He left his wife and two children behind, along with a debt of Rs 7 lakh.
Savita, who lives in Nashik, Maharashtra, was unaware of this debt. She only learned about it when cooperative banks came knocking at her door with notices, demanding she repay the dues. “It was almost a year later that I learned about the debts, and by this time, the interest had also increased,” the 40-year-old recalls to The Better India.
This financial crisis forced her to sell her only valuable possession — a gold chain. She also had to draw up a plan to relieve herself from the financial burden, and help her family survive. “My son, Dheeraj, was in Class IV at the time, and my daughter Sadhana was in Class II. We had 2.5 acres of a grape vineyard, which only yielded income once a year. I didn’t know anything about growing grapes, so I turned to cultivating vegetables instead,” Savita says.
However, the income she received from this was unsteady, and not enough for her and her family to sustain. “I hardly earned Rs 10,000 a month from selling the produce. How was I going to repay the debt and meet the expenses of my children?” she asks.
A gradual but steady rise
That’s when Savita learned about a spice-making machine, which cost Rs 65,000. “A friend suggested I buy it and start a side business. I took some money from our savings, and the rest came from selling my gold. The business helped me earn about Rs 50,000 a month,” she adds.
To overcome the unprofitability of vegetable farming, she began growing soybean and wheat as well. After toiling for six years, the entrepreneur was eventually able to repay her debt by 2014, while successfully ensuring her children continued to attain their education. By 2015, Savita had started earning a steady income of Rs 60,000.
“The spice business runs from February to July, when fresh spices are available in the market and are grounded for the year. With the income I receive from farming, I earn around Rs 1 lakh a month. In 2018, I also experimented with sugarcane. It’s low-maintenance and gives a harvest twice a year. In the recent season, I earned Rs 54,000 from the crop alone,” she says.
Savita opened a general store, called the Sadhana General Store, in 2019. “The shop helps compensate for the lack of earnings from my spice business during the off-season,” she says, adding that it was after many years of struggle that she could find different ways to earn enough to provide a decent life to her children and in-laws.
Fighting a long battle all alone
“I’ve only studied till Class VIII, so it took time for me to understand how to run a business and increase profits. Also, the spice business is physically enduring. It demands for me to start working as early as 5 am, and go on till midnight to ensure steady profits. The spices also irritate my eyes and skin. I often thought of selling off the machine and farm when I felt like I couldn’t go on for much longer,” she says.
Savita says that she fought the long battle alone. “I have learned that no friend or relative offers support in a time of crisis. I’m speaking from experience. Striving all these years on my own made the struggle a lot harder,” she adds.
But a silver lining comes in the form of her kids. Dheeraj has now made a career in electronics, and Sadhana is preparing to enter the state police services.
Savita says the day she relieved herself of the burden of debt was the happiest one of her life. “I urge every woman to be independent and resilient in the face of hardships,” she says.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)