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The art of soap making brightens the lives of women in rural Madhya Pradesh MPNRC News

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The art of soap making brightens the lives of women in rural Madhya Pradesh

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The Aajeevika Mission building opposite Jawar’s panchayat office is an otherwise non-descript structure except for the striking presence of a tractor and a crop-cutter. And there is a story in it – how women have empowered themselves to better their village and their lives by acquiring skills through the art of soap making.

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It all started when Priyanka Arya, assistant block manager of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), visited Jawar about three years ago. The Aryas were looking for women who were clear enough to organize the other women in the village into groups. Then he met Vandana Barkhana. Arya looked at Barkhana’s long veil and found potential in it. Thus with the initial 10 members, the first women’s self-help group, Shivshankar Aajeevika and Self Help Group (SHG) was formed, with the objective of mobilizing and training women from low and low-middle income families. Through microfinancing facilities for suitable livelihoods.

Display of handmade soaps made by the women of Jawar village. (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)
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At that time, most of the women in the village were confined to their homes, prevented from ever moving out to earn a living because of the patriarchal system. But after the establishment of Shivshankar SHG, many other women also came forward to be a part of similar groups. In this way, in a short time, several 10-member SHGs were formed in the village. Today there are 32 such groups in a village of about 5500 people, which are coordinated by the Barkhana.

Once the women joined together, they launched several schemes to improve their status. One such scheme involved taking a loan of Rs 12 lakh, a part of which was used to buy tractors and crop-cutters, both of which now hold the pride of place opposite the Aajeevika Mission building. These machines were to be made available to the village farmers for agricultural work at low hourly rates.

upskilling women

Meanwhile, once the SHG was formed, experts from Jabalpur were called by the chief executive officer of the Zilla Panchayat, Nanda Bhave Kushre, to train the women in soap manufacturing. The training was completed only two months ago, but the women here have already mastered the technique. In the three-day workshop, 15 women belonging to five different SHGs were trained and taught how to make herbal soap from goat’s milk under the Government’s Skill India Mission.

Women at Aajeevika Mission Bhawan making herbal soap from the beginning.  (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)
Women at Aajeevika Mission Bhawan making herbal soap from the beginning. (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)

Presently women buy goat milk from village milk dealers to prepare base by mixing glycerin, charcoal and essence as per requirement. They manage the packaging, while the Zilla Panchayat markets the product and receives orders. The money earned by the panchayat is deposited in the bank accounts of the women involved in soap making.

Earning almost nothing in the past, each of these women now earns Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 per month from soap making. This has ensured an important position for them in their respective families, while also making them much more ambivalent about the well being of their children. Many women have since admitted their children to private schools and in many cases have become an upward movement.

Although the venture is in its early stages, women are already making waves. While on tour by NRLM and Panchayat officials to apprise people about achievements under NRLM in other states, his work impressed the audience so much that he got bulk orders from Nagpur and Hyderabad. Recently he had also received orders from Nashik.

Changing socio-economic status of women

Apart from empowering women financially, the major achievement of NRLM has been in transforming their status within their respective families, making them socially efficient.

Proud of Vandana Barkhane, Pooja Pal and Nisha Sen of Aajeevika Mission.  (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)
Proud of Vandana Barkhane, Pooja Pal and Nisha Sen of Aajeevika Mission. (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)

Take the case of Barkhana, president of the local livelihood mission, who hails from a low-income household. Part of a joint family, Barkhane, like many other women in her village, was a housewife. After joining Shivshankar SHG, he was initially seen selling manure from cattle and goat dung of his family. Once she started making soap, she started a new phase in her life. Barkhane, who started the first SHG in her village, now coordinates all the other SHGs here as well.

Similarly, Nisha Sen was a typical Jawar housewife, unable to move out of her house. She could only manage to do some sewing work to supplement her family’s income. Joining Radha SHG two years ago opened a whole new world for her. Since she is never required to spend more than 4-5 hours making soap in Aajeevika Mission, her family does not object to her using her newly acquired skills to add to their income.

Vandana Barkhane coordinates with over 30 self-help groups in the village.  (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)
Vandana Barkhane coordinates with over 30 self-help groups in the village. (Image credit: Mohammad Asif Siddiqui)

Another such example is the story of Lakshmibai Kailash. When she lost her husband Kalam, Lakshmibai was forced to resort to manual labor to meet her needs. Joining an SHG gave him access to microfinance and enabled him to buy a winch machine for crushing sugarcane on a loan of Rs 20,000. Initially she herself ran the shop, but later it was run by her son. Thus, she could also take time out to be trained in soap making and earn a reasonable income to contribute to the family kitty.

better income for families

The involvement of women in soap manufacturing and other SHG-promoted activities has ensured better income for husbands and families of women, be they shepherds or farmers. Farmer families could rent tractors and crop-cutters at low rates due to women self-help groups.

Similarly, when women started making soap, they needed a regular supply of goat’s milk. This meant a regular market for its vendors. Families like Barkhana and a Puja Pal benefited immensely.

Pal, who was initiated into soap making by experts, and is an active member of Jai Mata Di SHG, told 101Reporters: “We have four to five goats. Considering our uncles and cousins, our extended family has 40 goats and several buffaloes. ,

Belonging to a goat rearing family, Barkhana has also ensured regular income for her family members.

Incidentally, 80 per cent subsidy through NRLM, income from selling soap and renting crop-cutters and tractors to farmers has also helped women repay their loans.

It is still early days, but if the progress made in the last few months is any indication, NRLM continues to brighten and embellish the dreary lives of rural women, courtesy a plethora of colorful soaps.

(The writer is Khandwa)-based freelance journalist and member of 101 reporterA pan-India network of grassroots journalists.)

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