Ramkali aka Kalia Devi, a Rana Tharu tribe lady, living in Balera village, surrounded by the jungles of Dudhwa National Park in Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh, at her 50s, has brought revolutionary changes into her life. A decade ago, the homeless lady was suffering from challenges of livelihood earnings. Her revolutionary steps, associated with a group of women within the tribe as well as supported by few government and social initiatives, have not only empowered her financially, but, has made a pucca house and her daughter is pursuing graduation from a college in Kheri. Besides, she, as part of a self-help-group (SHG) of 36 women, is also providing livelihoods to approximately 300 tribal women in the vicinity.
In 2008, under a livelihood training programme, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) imparted skill training for tribal arts and handlooms to a group of 10-12 women. After imparting training, the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) provided them some samples of shawls which the group of women re-developed at their home. After the development, the SDM invited them to participate in an exhibition to showcase their products. Magnificently, their works were recognised by the visitors and also the government officials. The money the group earned from the exhibition did not spend a single penny from for their need, rather bought 50 kg cotton threads for making handmade shawls and carpets for continuing their initiatives.
In the beginning, they stared working in a very low scale. At that time, they received Rs 15,000 grant from Government of India’s livelihood scheme, National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) for expansion of their work. Their work started getting continuous support from the local administration. In 2013, the group of women received another grant of Rs 110,000 from the NRLM. Later, they created a business model under which after deduction of operational cost and their own wages, the benefits were divided into two parts, one for buying threads and another for further expansions and development.
Speaking on the journey, Ramkali said, “Today, we get invitations to participate in exhibitions from across the country which has resulted into growing business and getting recognition from the government and development organisations. In this journey, we received a big boost when World Wide Foundation (WWF) granted us Rs 500,000. It helped us developing a permanent manufacturing unit with 16 handloom machines for carpets and for other related infrastructure.”
“We saw another big boost when as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, provided us a permanent shop in Shilpgram, Lucknow free of cost. Earlier, we had only been participating in the exhibitions, but, this move created incessant demand for our products,” Ramkali added.
Today, they are working in organised manner as part of a group of 36 women, under the self-help-group, named Aarti Aajivika, headed by Aarti Rana, a local lady in Palia tehsil of Lakhimpur Kheri district. The group has employed around 300 tribal women from the neighbouring villages. In this entire business, the only man who is associated with them is the one who is looking after their accounts.
Currently, the group is participating with their outlets in four locations; two different locations in Kumbh Mela, one in Varanasi and the forth one in Bahraich. Ramkali is representing the Lakhimpur Kheri district in the One District One Product (ODOP) exhibition in the Kumbh Mela. Her brother Ravi Prasad, an economics graduate from Digvijai Nath College, Gorakhpur is representing the Kushi Nagar district with banana fibre products in the same exhibition.
While speaking on challenges, Ramkali said, “We are facing a problem of high-cost thread which is increasing our production cost and capping our sales. The government should decrease the prices of thread or provide subsidy so that we can continue to be competitive with making products cheaper to get better number of customers.”
Rural economy has been into distress for long, sustained support to these types of cottage, tribal and rural initiatives can help boost the rural economy where 70 per cent of India’s population live. Their financial empowerment on such a large scale can help the country’s economy grow fast forward.