“It will be a long day”, said Vinod, who was accompanying me to visit SHGs (Self help groups) in rural Karnataka. I was eager to know how similar or different they would be, from the SHGs I had met in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Goa on my earlier work-trips. Several activities were lined up in different villages. We had a heavy breakfast at Mysore and drove towards our first village, Doora, through green and yellow Paddy fields with patches of Sugarcane in between.
Basaveshwara group, named after a 12th century Kannada Poet, Basava, is an all men’s group who are farmers by their traditional profession and have come together to work as potters. After a quick introduction, they got back to their pot wheels. Thimmashetty, one of the members, demonstrated the entire process of drawing the required amount of clay from the tank bed, spreading it on the wheel, mixing the right quantity of water, shaping it up with thumbs and fingers while supporting it with both the hands and taking it out by separating the pot from the wheel delicately with the help of a thread. It’s magic that all of them are capable of creating and it was pure bliss to be a live audience to see them at work. Watch a short clip here.
A few members of Bhairaweshwara group were also present. It is several years old and is continuing for a couple of generations. Venkatesh from their group goes to teach pottery in fine arts colleges of Bangalore. There are 17 such groups in this village and these two are the most active. They sell their products to nearby cities in Karnataka and also get bulk orders from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The range begins from INR 15 per piece and goes up to INR 2,000 per piece, depending on the size and detailing. If you want to place an order, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with them.
While interacting with them, I couldn’t resist trying my hands on all the clay lying around. With the help of Thimmashetty, I only managed this small piece that he jokingly called an ashtray 😉
Requesting for a group picture, we bid them goodbye and moved towards the next village, Utthanahalli, where I met these smart women who are a part of different self-help groups. Like all other SHGs, they also save a decided amount of money each month, circulate it through inter-loaning and earn interest for the group. Besides that, they make these colorful baskets, use them, gift them and sell them in the market for INR 150 to INR 250 for smaller and bigger sizes respectively.
It looked complicated, more difficult than pottery, because there, if not a wide pot, you make a narrow one but here, even if one loop goes wrong, you have to re-do it. Although, once you’ve learnt the trick, the chances of error go down considerably. Rathnamma from Nanjundeshwara SHG, helped me with twining and plaiting but I failed terribly.
With all the household chores, these ladies manage to make one basket in just two days. Some of them also teach the skill to other women in their families and neighborhood. They prefer working from their homes and meet at a common place only once in a month or two months to discuss important matters. On asking, I found out there are a total of 15 SHGs in this village, 13 of women and 2 of men but basket-making is only done by women. I’m sure men can find their way around it if they try!
We also got a chance to meet the female coordinator who manages SHGs in 100 such villages (on extreme left in the picture below)
Next was Badanavalu village where we had unknowingly kept the women groups waiting because we got too involved into learning the ways of Basket weaving. It was lunch-time and all of us were hungry. Co-incidentally, what these women make, is close to food. They stitch Aprons, along with the chef caps. They have their own Apron unit with Sewing machines, cloth stock, record registers and other supplies. The village has a good amount of agricultural land. Hence, most of them have farming as a traditional family profession but they also earn their livelihood by supplying these aprons to the kitchens of TVS Motors nearby.
From here, we proceeded for lunch in the same village. Rudrani, our host and her daughter Jagadamba with some of their friends, had prepared a traditional meal at their home which was constructed more than 100 years ago and have been occupied ever since. Jagadamba lives 60 km away, at her husband’s house but often visits to meet family and to teach tailoring in the village. The banana leaves were laid out soon after we reached. I couldn’t wait to wash my hands and dig them into the delicious looking items ready to be served to us.
Who goes to school after a heavy meal? We did. In the village of Bokkahalli, lies a model school being run by TVS in collaboration with ITC, setting an example for other primary schools in the area. We briefly met the students from 1st to 3rd standard who were sitting in circles, learning from each other. The teacher student ratio, as told by the staff, is 1:30, in line with the rules laid out by government. The classrooms and school premises are maintained by students, as they are allotted duties on rotational basis.
Subsequently, an Anganwadi in Banchalli Hundi was briefly visited which has also been developed with ITC. The village development committee decides the roles of two organizations and they provide the support accordingly.
Last in the day’s visit and one of the most inspirational was to meet the SHGs in Byathahalli village. SriBhagyajyoti and SriNarayanswami group members here make garlands everyday, which are bought by a TVS unit nearby for the idols kept in their offices. Several kilos of flowers are used and more than 50 meter of garlands are made each day.
In the adjoining room, another cluster of 5 groups run a Roti-making unit and deliver it to TVS canteen for both lunch and dinner. They work in two shifts, 10-12 women at a time from 5:30 AM to 8:30 AM and 2 PM to 5 PM. More than 5,000 Rotis are made every day which are sold at INR 1.95 per piece with a profit of 30-40 paisa per Roti. Massive amount of wheat flour, salt, oil and gas is used during the entire process.
It was indeed a long day, but equally interesting. I got to know plenty of new things including some of the Karnataka government regulations in primary schools, livelihood options in these villages and logistics of a Roti-making unit. On the mention of SHGs, I had assumed it would be women’s groups because that’s usually the case. It was great to see men supporting each other and empowering themselves financially as well as socially. It would have been more immersive if we could stay longer.
SST (Srinivasan Services Trust) is the social arm of TVS Motors and I was invited by them to visit their community development initiatives in the villages of Mysore. They are working in 396 villages here and thousands more in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. The work is done through 6 main ways of intervention – Education, Environment, Health, Infrastructure, Economic development and Social & Cultural development. To know more about their work, visit their website or watch their stories.
© 2018, Swati. All rights reserved.