Parwati, 50, says that her husband sells fish at the local market and earns around Rs 4,000 a month. “In this amount, we have to look after all the expenses of four children. My two sons are 24 and 30 years old, but they are yet to get a job. It is tough to survive on this income. But we don’t have any other option,” laments Parwati, who lives in a mud house with her husband and children.
This is not a rare occurrence in Bijpur village in Sonbhadra district, Uttar Pradesh, which is populated by Adivasi people where most of them work as labourers, farmers and fish sellers to earn a living. But they barely managed to make ends meet.
However, Renu Kumari came to the rescue of the women of this village. She is thankful for the opportunity to complete her graduation along with tailoring and beautician courses. Today, she is using her skills to empower hundreds of Adivasi women.
The 26-year-old was selected by the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC) to teach 30 women of the village tailoring in 2013. It was then that she realised those who have learnt tailoring were earning some money by stitching clothes for the villagers.
“By teaching them my newly learnt skill, I realised they could chip in with household expenses. So I started a tailoring coaching centre,” says Renu.
A Tailor-Made Course
Renu started her coaching centre in 2014. She is the youngest sibling of four children. Her father and brother sell fish in the market.
But the Economics graduate from Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith, which is about 45 km away from her village, faced problems in completing her education.
“My parents were not ready to send me to college because it was too far. This meant extra expenses of Rs 4,000 for travelling every year. Moreover, they questioned what I would do with my education since girls were only fated to get married,” says Renu.
Today, Renu has trained more than 100 women in her coaching centre, including some young girls from the village.
“I charge Rs 200 per woman because I have to pay the rent for the facility, which is Rs 1,800 per month, and also the electricity bills, which is around Rs 200 per month,” says Renu. She further adds that the tailoring course is six-month long where women are trained for stitching suits and other ladies’ clothes.
The cluster of villages, including Bijpur, has a population of around 10,000 and the tailors trained under Renu cater to orders from nearby villages as well.
In 2005, Soni Gupta, 26, lost her father who was working as a labourer earning about Rs 5,000 a month. However, since his death Soni, her mother and four brothers have gone through a lot.
“Thankfully my elder brother started working with the [NTPC] plant near the village as an electrician, which didn’t let us go hungry. However, it is always tough to run the house with a single man’s earnings. That is why when I came to know about the coaching centre I joined in 2020,” says Soni.
Today, Soni, who is pursuing her final year in Masters of Arts programme, is earning enough to meet her own expenses through her tailoring business from home. “I earn around Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 a month, depending on the season. With this, I manage to also save some money for myself,” says Soni. She further adds that she is the only one in her family who is pursuing higher studies. “All my brothers studied till Class 12. I told them that if I am educated I can work anywhere and earn a living.”
Another woman Kavita Devi, 40, from the village sought tailoring training from Renu two years ago. Her husband works as a private bus conductor earning Rs 400 a day as a daily wager. She lives in a family of five and says, “It is always tough to run the house with whatever my husband earns. However, once I started my tailoring business I now earn about Rs 2,000 a month. It may sound like a small amount for city people but it is a lot for us. I have bought some jewellery through monthly EMIs with the money I earn, which could not have been possible with my husband’s income alone.”
Kavita adds that looking into the kind of relief the tailoring work gave her, she also made her 21-year-old daughter learn tailoring “Apart from earning money, we are also able to save by stitching our own clothes,” she adds.
“Renu is doing a great job by teaching women of the village tailoring. With this, we are able to earn some money that we had never imagined doing. Apart from earning money, we have also developed a sense of encouragement that we can also achieve something in life,” says Kavita.
The more women got empowered the more women came forward for the training.
Parwati also joined the course two months ago. She says, “Once I am trained I will also be able to earn Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 a month, like the other women.”
Along with empowering women, Renu also made people of the village aware of the dangers of the pandemic. The villagers were not following any COVID-19 protocols such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing or washing their hands. Renu stitched more than 500 masks and sold 300 for Rs 3 each and also distributed about 150 masks to Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers, among others.
“Nobody was wearing masks as they did not know the dangers of the coronavirus. That is why I distributed masks for free and even sold them for a very low price,” adds Renu. Looking into her work, a Delhi-based organisation also helped her by providing masks and sanitisers.
She concludes saying, “I didn’t know I could empower so many women through my skills. Now I won’t stop training and empowering them. Maybe one day I will be running an NGO and doing a lot of work for my villagers on a larger scale.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)